This quarter’s report is by Michelle Elvy
This batch of short-listed stories revealed something of the times we are living. There was quite a lot of anxiety and anger, pent-up emotions and necessary release. I admire how writers pushed the possibilities of flash fiction, taking risks in content and form. Some tried to tackle big themes of recent times, from the #metoo movement to US borders, from domestic violence to old age and illness. I applaud everyone who made it to the short list in this batch; the topics you’ve taken on are challenging in any form, and all the more so when you only have 500 words to work with.
The stories that rose to the top of the short list are those that did something unique with their material. I am a fan of experimental, and I’m always on the lookout for a flash fiction that does something new. There were plenty in this batch that tested the form – wonderful! And sometimes – as in the case of the story I’ve placed at the top of these selections – a story just tells it straight, and does that so very well.
Congratulations to everyone. There was an excellent range of content and structure here, and choosing the top placements was not easy.
FIRST: The Shop Game
This story is so streamlined, with almost no fancy turns or clever hooks but all the details placed just right. And that is its strength: its realism rings true; the voice is clear and confident. It is written with clean, beautiful prose, and it draws the reader in with its plainspoken style, from the opening phrase (‘After the thing with the Joneses…) to the very end. There is a lot of quiet in this story – and deep, unspoken truths. The moment of quiet mystery in the final scene keeps the reader there in that moment with the girl. This feels like a classic – and it works on every level.
SECOND: For the Symptomatic Relief of Nothingness
A clever use of a ‘prescription’ and lists. The instructional tone really works. This story draws the reader in with a kind of insider ‘I know you know’ voice – creating with the reader a kind of guilty collusion. At times the reveals are uncomfortable, at times relentless or even accusatory (the imperative is used so well, with a set of ‘Do’ and ‘Don’t’ bullet points). Yet as we work our way through the ‘outline’ of what happens (in which we gain an understanding of both plot and relationships), we come to unexpected moments of humour, absurdity, stark reality and even tenderness.
THIRD: We are Kathryn
This story packs a punch with its first-person-plural voice and unexpected imagery and phrasing. The reader can’t get away from it, from the very first sentence to the final simple line. We are drawn in, made part of it. We are wrapped up in all its terror. A statement for our times – potentially heavy-handed, and yet so powerful; this manages to pull it off because of its relentless style of chilling short sentences and vivid descriptions. The reader simply cannot – must not – look away.
HM: The Photograph
The photograph tells it all: the beauty and love of what is shared between two people, and then loss and betrayal. But the way the writer manages what could feel like an inevitable outcome is what makes this story stand out. It’s all there in the photograph – each step of the relationship. Even as the story shifts from a feeling of adoration to a sense of dread, the writer manages to avoid bitterness (and this is hard to pull off). The second-person telling brings the reader into the image, and the marriage, and the hints at doubt are not only about the relationship but about perception of reality and memory as well.