Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World (anthology) edited by Christopher Merrill, et. al

By Ekta R. Garg

July 15, 2015

Rated: Borrow it

Falling in line with all things digital and byte-sized, W.W. Norton released this spring its third anthology of flash fiction.Called Flash Fiction International, the book shares three editors: James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill. The difference between this book and the previous two collections comes in the addition of international authors, no small undertaking by the editors and the publisher. The result brings readers a deep collection of stories that will leave them wanting more, albeit at the small concession of extensive plots.

Flash fiction, unlike other forms of stories, doesn’t take its time to offer readers a buildup. Readers must jump into the story worlds like jumping into a pool of cold water and allow the shock of the prose envelop them quickly and completely. Because of this, some stories build on concrete ideas right away.

In this collection stories like “Not Far from the Tree” by South African writer Karina M. Szczurek gives readers a chance to ponder with Madolyn, the protagonist, the meaning of marriage as she defends her own. Author Chen Qiyou from Taiwan details the way a person can hold one’s self responsible for tragedy in “Butterfly Forever.” In “Prisoner of War” from Muna Fadhil in Iraq, main character Sahira deals with the practical challenges of a family member who comes home after spending time in prison.

Several stories start to blur the lines between the concrete and the abstract. Alberto Chimal, a Mexican writer, details a baptism in “The Waterfall” but chooses an unexpected protagonist and pushes the story to a greater sense of depth as a result. In “Late for Dinner” by British author Jim Crace, the main character thinks about the consequences of delaying his arrival at a family gathering; by doing so, Crace gives his protagonist—and the reader—the space to accept those thoughts that normally get pushed away. The concept of secret thoughts gets explored even more in the story “Reunion” by United States author Edward Mullany when a woman runs into her ex-husband’s new wife.

Some stories push completely into the world of the abstract, leaving the reader to glean whatever meaning s/he can. For example, from Italy writer Giorgio Manganeilli gives readers “An Ouroboric Novel” about a woman who gives birth to a sphere. What does the sphere represent? Every reader gets to decide. The collection opens with “The Story, Victorious” from Israeli author Etgar Keret, a short tale that extols its own virtues—literally. What does this mean for readers in the figurative sense? Polish writer Natasza Goerke’s tale “Stories” ends the entire collection by asking the reader what matters.

In an homage to the legacy of flash fiction, the editors included a few choice favorites and older tales. Readers will travel with Death in Somerset Maugham’s “Appointment in Samarra.” Franz Kafka’s native Czechoslovakia gets represented by his story “An Imperial Message” about an emperor’s missive and the messenger trusted with it. From ancient Rome readers will enjoy Petronius’ “The Young Widow” about a woman who can show practicality even in the midst of grief.

The book contains stories for a variety of appetites, but readers who like a little more meat to their tales may need to remind themselves that the demands of flash fiction don’t allow for much more than an appetizer. Also, in an age where digital technology allows readers fast access to quality fiction across the internet, the editors and the publisher should probably look into making the next anthology available much sooner (the previous collection released in 2005.)

I recommend readers Borrow Flash Fiction International.