The Best Small Fictions 2015 is a collection of very short fiction originally published by a variety of publications. I was asked if I would review this book by the series editor Tara L. Masih several weeks ago. I accepted because I like it when I am asked to review something that isn’t a vampire apocalypse romance novel. I was not entirely sure what small fiction was about but was told there was prose poetry included. That was good enough for me.
I will say I was very surprised with this collection. I usually do not care for short stories because I feel dropped into the middle of a story and pulled out before it’s over or before I completely understand what is going on. Small fiction, however, is the matchbox of fiction; no story is more than a few short pages. There is also the feeling of completeness in these shorter stories that are missing from traditional short stories. It is not Cliff Note or the Readers Digest version of a story either. There is a fullness that usually requires many more words.
The range of material is very broad along with the style and format. The shortest work is one hundred and forty characters taken from Twitter Fiction. Most stories, though, tend to be a page or two. Almost from the start I was hooked on this collection. J. Duncan Wiley’s “A Notice From the Office of Reclamation”, a two and a half page warning for those thinking of entering the mine, read in part:
Rocks grind their granite teeth over geologic eons, holding their grudges close. You cannot win against them. Your little flame of curiosity, infinitesimal by comparison, will gutter before it illuminates even the shallowest depths of that darkness. You will fall.
There is a rhythm and a taunting voice that leaps from the pages and expands the words into something more than simple prose. It reads like a dark fairy tale with enough detail to fill a dream.
Some stories capture real-life events and the little embarrassments that join them. Stuart Dybek’s “Brisket” is such a story. The trappings of everyday life capture us when we are distracted. “Brisket” is a great story with a moral that even vegetarians like myself can enjoy. Adding to the real life theme, Naomi Telushkin and Dan Gilmore write realistic, timely tales of identity.
Not everything is light. Emma Bolden’s “Before She was a Memory” touched a very real and dark place in my life. Catherine Moore’s “Not About Liz” seems innocent but has a dark and creepy undertone.
These works have all been published in various places and collected as a “best of volume” much like David Lehman does with the yearly Best of American Poetry series. The sources range from Twitter, to 100 Word Story, to Black Lawrence Press, and a wide variety of other publications. Also included with this collection is an interview Phong Nguyen of Pleiades and an interview with Michael Martone who has two stories in this collection. This is truly a well-selected collection and has given me a new appreciation for small fiction. The Best Small Fictions 2015 will make you a believer in small fiction as literature.