“Literary Shrapnel”: New Micro, a fiction anthology edited by James Thomas & Robert Scotellaro, reviewed by Bryan Jansing

When I was in the Navy in 1991 I found a book at the Exchange that would change my life. The book was Sudden Fiction: American Short Short Stories edited by James Thomas and Robert Shapard. It set a course in my life. I wanted to write fiction, I wanted to write stories. But I didn’t want to dredge through three hundred pages to do so.

Flash Fiction, as these two editors so eloquently named it, is just that, a flash of a character’s life that, like lighting cracks within the darkness of our minds, arcs and ends. James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro’s New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction gives you 300-word stories whose language has been sharpened on a fine stone, but not pumped with rhythm or rhyme to carry you away in song.

New Micro is filled with evocative stories like Lorraine Lopez’s “The Night Aliens in a White Van Kidnapped My Teenage Son Near the Baptist Church Parking Lot” that leave you with deep grief that our children are vulnerable to being taken, snatched by the hands of recklessness or swallowed by nature like in Pamela Painter’s “Letting Go” where you wonder, who will pick up the thread of these lost souls.

With some ninety authors and over one hundred thirty stories, New Micro allows you to wander through a staggering landscape and points-of-view. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “My Bliss” shuttles you through a plethora of abstract marriages and divorces to common kitchen objects, woodland animals and everyday dishes to remind us how desperate we are for love in just three hundred words.

The joy of New Micro’s collection is the jazzy cacophony of writing styles that pluck, blow, beat, and swing. Whether you are shedding clothes for a lover or putting them on as in Richard Bruautigan’s story “Women When They Put Their Clothes On in the Morning”, New Micro thrusts you into human experiences with quality writing that crashes onto your mental shores again and again. At the very essence of micro fiction you react to each piece individually and their bite leave teeth marks.

In “Indecision”, by Louis Jenkins, you’re left in the cold, sub-zero weather and your house catches fire. This is what you feel like after reading New Micro. This big book of little stories draws you to deal with humanity as each story, a snap shot of us, all of us, struggles, wins, loses, discovers or feigns to. You shuffle the punctuated images like a deck of cards and you gamble your emotional chips to come to term with what these fine writers have dealt you. Steve Almond reminds us to live, to love as friends die, because, friends die in “Dumbrowski’s Advice”.

Meg Tuite sinks us in the lonely alcoholic lives of our parents in “Dad’s Strung Out Women Blues”. Tom Hazuka’s “Utilitarianism” allows us to experience the coziness of the weirdness of our parents as we become adults and they return to themselves, not parents anymore, but the kooky, lovely people we did not yet know. Diane Williams reflects on the parents we are, in “A Mere Flask Poured Out”, a reflection of ourselves poured over our children in the way it was poured over us before.

Ron Koertge stabs deep with “War”, told through the eyes of the character’s broken life. While Keven Griffith’s view of war is less m9isfortunate; a quirky happenstance in “Furnace”.

At the end of your placated emotional journey, you just hope, nearly plead for a professional, like Nancy Stohlman’s “Death Row Hugger” to embrace you and tell you it’s alright. In the flitter of a few words, Stefanie Freele crushes us with laughter in a battle between man and nature and we, as she titles it, “Crumple” under the hilarious juxtaposition of motherhood and the physical faults of aging, a zest of hilarity in full view.

Peter Orner’s haunting story “At Horseneck Beach” of causal spousal murder is eloquently told as each step moves towards the deed fueled by a soured marriage. Lynn Mundell, in “The Old Days”, bares you witness the systematic death of a marriage, family and life from an office fling that in 300 words fills a lifetime.

Punch for punch, these micro fists hit at you hard and with life’s betrayals and losses. Gay Degani gives a knockout blow in “Abbreviated Glossary” when the termination of a pregnancy is also the loss of dignity at the hands of an unsympathetic, career-focused husband.

You feel the fiery love of Pedro Ponce’s “The Illustrated Woman” and despair what is often so inevitable between lovers, “two halves and the indelible border between.” While Kathy Fish’s “Akimbo” echoes how hard it is for lovers to hold onto the borders of a relationship when disaster strikes. Paul Beckman’s “Brother Speak” jabs at brotherly love where machismo and competition never die, no matter how old you get.

If you’re an aspiring writer or simply a lover of fiction, this kaleidoscope of stories takes you to emotional places with dazzling imagery and profound language. People often exclaim that the micro format is perfect for this modern era of brief emails, fast Facebook snippets and 280-character tweets. New Micro puts you in the hands of exceptional artisans who fulfill so much with a small, but very sharp scalpel. The incision is deep, the scar everlasting. But the pleasure collected in New Micro: Exceptionally Small Fiction does not miss the human theme; rather, it leaves you in awe of being human.

New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, edited by James Thomas & Robert Scotellaro. New York, New York: WW Norton & Company, August 2018. 288 pages. $15.95, paper.

Bryan Jansing’s works include “Like Clumps of Dried Dirt,” “Bridge Party,” “A Number on Reality,” Fast Forward Vol. 3,  andThe Mix Tape (2010), a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards. His flash fiction has also been published by Pure Slush, Soft Cartel Magazine, Abstract Expressions, Eunoia Review, Monkey Puzzle, and others. He’s written for Ringling Bros. Circus, Beer Advocate, and Celebrator. His book Italy: Beer Country is the first about the Italian craft beer movement.

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