Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazukatai
As I’ve been stretching and working out my writing muscles, I’ve thought a lot about how hard it must be to write a novel. Even a longer short story is quite impressive to me. I believe writing is partially about building stamina. It’s hard to write for a long time about one thing, and it takes work to get to where you can do it, at least for me. Like with physical exercise, some people have natural coordination & agility, and it’s easy for them. For people like me, you’re working on getting there. One avenue of writing I find very beneficial to read is flash fiction because it’s a writing form I feel that I can easily tackle right now. This is a pretty perfect collection with entries from very well-known authors to some new ones who specialize in the form. The themes in these stories are very philosophical; there’s not a lot of heavy plot that can be done in such a constrained space, so leaning into the abstract can be helpful. That said, some choose to begin in media res or end on an ambiguous note if they are closer to traditional narratives. The best pieces in the book come from your well-known writers, in my opinion, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Tim O’Brien. If you are interested in having some short, bite-sized pieces of fiction to read and take your time with a book, this is a great one to have on the shelf.
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
Hailed as one of the first great COVID novels, I was very curious going into Our Country Friends. I’ve heard of Shteyngart via the Chapo Trap House podcast, and the premise intrigued me. A Russian-born novelist invites a small trio of friends to his and his Russian-born psychiatrist wife’s country house in upstate New York. The pandemic has just broken out, so they offer their place as a haven, although many issues exist between them and their precocious K-pop-obsessed child. Among the guests are a struggling Indian-American writer, a globe-trotting college buddy, a successful Korean-American dating app designer, and the actor set to play the lead in a film adapted from the Russian writer’s novel. Shteyngart pulls off something amazing, summarizing the current shift of this new decade, all of the anxiety and narcissism. I got a strong sense of a Frank Oz film like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or What About Bob? reading this. It has that sort of building to a wild crescendo energy, people becoming obsessed with minor slights. But there’s also a lot of heart to the book and character work through disappointments and heartbreaks from decades previous.
Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
If Our Country Friends is trying to find humor and humanity in our current state of being, then Good Neighbors is a descent into contemporary suburban Hell. The Wildes have always felt like outsiders since moving from the city to their Maple Street neighborhood on Long Island. Rhea Schroeder was the only person that ever seemed to give Gertie Wilde the time of day. Everyone was friendly, to a point. But something changed, and Gertie becomes upset when she realizes they have been excluded from a block party in the nearby park. Things take a dark turn when a massive sinkhole opens up in the park, and the mood changes quickly on Maple Street. This is a horror story about people refusing to deal with their trauma, allowing guilt to drive them mad, and ultimately how contemporary life has isolated people from each other in a way that can only end in violence. You will feel many things reading this novel, and that’s something only really great literature can do. I saw this being recommended alongside things like Big Little Lies, but it is a much more intense read than that.
The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins
It’s so funny to me that conservatives & fascists in the States are so unhappy with the current state of social studies/history education. As they currently stand, they give a strongly blurred and glossed-over version of actual events, but even that is not enough for them. The Jakarta Method is a must-read for anyone willing to hear the truth about Western anti-communism and its horrific effects on the planet. You’ll often hear “victims of communism” cited, yet never a conversation about how many people have died at the hands of rabid global capitalism. Indonesia was the staging ground of the CIA’s first successful coup, a framework that, like a virus, would spread across the planet and kill millions. Vincent Bevins does an excellent job sharing the broad view of history and the intimate experiences of people on the ground. This is difficult to get through because he conveys the horror these people went through at American-guided hands in their own countries. The evil that the United States perpetrated on the world’s developing nations is so beyond forgiveness. It truly is the most evil society in this world.