We’ve been noticing a growing trend in micro-fiction in recent years, and particularly in recent months: in fact, two of the books on our list of new must-reads for December fall into this category, so we thought we’d better take a look at it.
Flash fiction or micro fiction is usually described as fiction under a thousand words, though much of it is much shorter — in fact, many traditions of flash fiction have self imposed word limits, like the popular 55 Fiction form. There are reigning masters of the field, like Julio Cortázar and Fredric Brown — and of course, everyone knows the most famous piece of micro fiction, supposedly penned by Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Though the form has been around for a long time, it seems to be having a moment. This past year, we became obsessed with a literary journal devoted to the form, Esquire held a flash fiction contest judged by Colum McCann, and several books of tiny fiction have caught our eye. Click through to check out some of our favorite examples of micro fiction from the recent past, and let us know what you think in the comments.
420 Characters , Lou Beach
Here’s a very current take on the micro fiction trend: the wonderful hallucinatory collagist Lou Beach has created a book of stories that originated as Facebook status updates — which means forcibly constrained to 420 characters or less. Like any good collection of flash fictions, however, each of Beach’s tiny stories stand up on their own two legs, each their own crystalline feeling, taste, or moment. Yes, some of them are as weird and witty as his art, and yes, that’s a good thing.
Full disclosure: Flavorpill shares an editor, the wonderful Rozalia Jovanovic, with Gigantic. But this humble writer had no idea of that fact when she fell for the literary journal, which publishes art and prose under 700 words, and is really good. All the cool kids are reading it, you guys.
The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories Vol. 1 , Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Another book just out this month, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s very tiny, hitRECord crowd-sourced gem is filled with what are probably the shortest stories on this list — one or two line missives accompanied by drawings ranging from delicate to hastily scribbled. Though wildly uneven, as many group efforts can be, it’s pretty adorable, and we think there’s something here for everyone.
Museum of the Weird , Amelia Gray
Both this book, which came out last year, and AM/FM , Gray’s 2009 debut, are filled with deliciously lush and highly odd shorts about everything you could almost-but-not-quite imagine. Absurd (a man marries a bag of frozen tilapia) and fabulistic (animals carrying on in a bar), her work is not to be missed.
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis , Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis is quite possibly the best ever at this genre. Not only that, but she’s been doing flash fiction before flash fiction was cool, and probably before it was even noticed as a thing by the world at large. Though the stories in this book do not all fall into the micro fiction category, the ones that do are some of her most savage, desperate, beautiful best.
This project, a “literary and anthropological experiment” meant to demonstrate “that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively,” produced some great flash fiction. Basically, the creators bought items off eBay for a dollar or so, and then asked great writers (Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Colson Whitehead) to write a story for them. In the end, the items sold for a lot more than they were bought for.
The Facts of Winter , Paul La Farge
The Facts of Winter, just reprinted this year by McSweeney’s, is a collection of dreams, supposedly from collected by the citizens of Paris in 1881. Each dream is ethereal and tiny, and mirrored by its French equivalent for double flash fiction reading.
Daddy’s , Lindsey Hunter
We admit — half the reason we picked up this book at first was that it was so small, and we thought gratefully of it nestled in one of our coat pockets, no bag required. But then we opened the tackle box, and found the most terrifying, raw, delicious stories inside. As Deb Olin Unferth said, “Each tiny, diamond story — precise, comic, poised at the edge of surreal— contains one brutal life force tearing itself off the page. You can hold Daddy’s in your hands and feel it breathing.”
The Lover’s Dictionary , David Levithan
The Lover’s Dictionary is, officially, a novel. Indeed, the different definitions, which range from full page vignettes to just a few words or a repeated phrase, add up like fuzzy puzzle pieces to the story of a romance. But the brilliance of the book is that each one, looked at on its own, could be its own story, self-contained and poignant, and once you find one you really like, the rest of the book is like background reading.
Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories , ed. Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka, Mark Budman
This collection, published this month by Persea, is only the latest in the parade of flash fiction anthologies. However, we were inspired by the idea — the first collection of flash fiction to be focused on youth — and the list of contributors, which includes Steve Almond, Dave Eggers, Victor Lavalle, and Alice Walker, among others.