Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wigleaf/Barry Graham/Mary Lynn Reed/Flash Fiction Review

Nominating Editor: Scott Garson

Wigleaf publishes short stuff – stories under 1000 words. We run a new story every few days for nine months of the year; over the summer we put up our award annual, the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions of the year (Chad Simpson served as our first Selecting Editor and came up with a fantastic and super-diverse list).

So—short stuff. 'Flash'? The term is useful because people know it, but I'm not a big fan: in the metaphor I sense something too close to a prescribed aesthetic—and if there's anything that has characterized Wigleaf in its first year, it's probably a moving away from prescribed aesthetic.

I remember reading something in a fiction-writing text I once assigned. Though you may have the most dazzling ideas in the world, its author argued, readers won't read them unless you have a strong plot. Something like that. I've come to see Wigleaf as a refuge from this type of thinking. Story is important, but there's a lot more than one kind of story, and a lot more than one way to tell stories. Nothing really unites the very diverse group of writers who've been generous enough to share their work with us—except maybe this: they seem to me to be doing just what they want to do, and only what they want to do. If they're following rules, they're of their own making.

I won't say much about Barry Graham's "This Story Is Not about Ham and Cheese Sandwiches," because I'd like to leave things wide open for the review. I will say this: many, many readers have expressed enthusiasm for this story, admiration of it. As a reader, I'm right there with them.

Nominated Flash Fiction: "This Story Is Not about Ham and Cheese Sandwiches" - Barry Graham

Review: by Mary Lynn Reed

From the very title of this story, the reader is challenged to dust off that secret decoder ring and answer the question that is laced into the fabric of every well-chosen image in this simply-stated short fiction. The title tells us this story is not about ham and cheese sandwiches. By the end of the first paragraph we know it is not about Ms. Pac-Man and ham and cheese sandwiches. So, dear reader, what is it about?

Great short stories both entice and reveal from the very first sentence. "Not About Ham and Cheese Sandwiches" begins: "I woke up because my lips were dry." This is a great example of an opening line working overtime. The protagonist is parched, yearning for hydration. But, two sentences later: "No, that's not why. I woke up because someone rang the doorbell." Soon, everything is suspicious. The protagonist is slightly paranoid, having fallen asleep playing Ms. Pac-Man, and "The game was paused but the red ghost was still moving, still trying to catch me and eat my soul." My secret decoder ring says that may be the most important line in the story.

And then the leading lady appears, making our hero those ham and cheese sandwiches, eating all of his pretzels. She wants rum and Coke, but he can only provide half of the cocktail. The Coke half. She's cold and wants a blanket. He tells her to drink more rum (which he doesn't have). In the morning she makes him scrambled eggs and toast. He can't stomach it and prefers a bowl of Cookie Crisp. What she gives, he doesn't want. What she needs, he doesn't have. And in a remarkably deft maneuver, the author slips us the clue: "All of this took thirty seconds or ten minutes or two and a half years."

This story is not about Ms. Pac-Man and ham and cheese sandwiches. It is laced with symbolism and fresh metaphor and it is not happening in real-time. But with its clipped, achingly real dialogue, and its effortless and vivid description, it achieves a relentless undercurrent of: "Look closer: there is more." And the reader is happy to stay, decoding, well beyond the final bang of the screen door "back and forth against the white chair on the front porch."

Reviewer's Bio:

Mary Lynn Reed's fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, Karamu, Happy, Temenos, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other places; she has stories forthcoming in Per Contra and Night Train. She is currently writing a novel about a transgendered teenage triathlete. She lives in Maryland, near Washington, D.C.

Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this flash fiction.

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