Unselected, by John Kipling Lewis

IOD-UnselectedToday marks another experiment. John Lewis asked me if I accept collections of flash fiction. I said, “Let’s find out.” And this is what we learned…

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Um, reaching the sudden end of a story you’re enjoying is like having your brain stem jerked out through the back of your skull in mid-senten–

I read until I caught myself thinking about whether or not to keep reading. Three times. After stopping the clock, I then gave myself two minutes to compose a flash-y response, while still running. What follows is the best I could do. (The flashists have nothing to fear from me.)

Flash response: Here’s why I don’t read flash fiction: When it doesn’t work, it’s a ghastly thing. Pointless. Literary masturbation, wrapped in somebody else’s fetish imagery. But when it does work, as it mostly does here; when it sucks you in with a glitter of thought, or with a turn of phrase to make poets weep, even then, it reveals itself to be nothing more than cotton candy. Tantalizing you with a dream of what you crave, setting loose all your longings, your hopes, your wonder, and taking you to the very brink of enlightenment… but then dying on your tongue. Gone. And all that remains is the ashy taste of what almost was.

Less endorphin-soaked response: According to the IOD protocol, I read each book until I notice myself breaking immersion three times. But usually when that happens, it’s because the writing did something to break the spell for me. In the case of Unselected though, the cause was more innocent: flash stories are short, and there’s an unavoidable snap back to reality after the final sentence. What surprises me is that even with this handicap, I read quite a bit more than three stories. But only the stories. Being totally honest, poetry bores me when it’s collected together with stories. I need to be in one head-space to enjoy a story, and a completely different one for poems, so my habit of long standing is to simply skip the poems without even trying them. (Sorry poets.) And I did so here as well. But even with that, I still managed to read quite a bit more than 3 stories, often reading two or three in a single run, before noticing that I’d noticed myself noticing the breaks. (Describing the process of immersion breaking is harder than it appears.)

I think that means that I was more immersed than I expected to be, and that can only be a good thing.

The writing is tight and vivid, and several of the stories were quite engaging – to start with. But as I attempted to describe in my flash response, the problem for me is that when a story works and engages me, I am irritated by its untimely demise. I’m still in the process of falling into it, when suddenly, I find that I have fallen right through it. Perhaps if I was a more frequent reader of the form, I would now be accustomed to this jarring experience, but in my heart of hearts, I find that I don’t want to become accustomed to that. It’s like enjoying that feeling you get when you’ve just met a girl, and you really like her, but she tells you she has terminal cancer. That’s just not a feeling I can imagine ever liking. Whether I’m picking up a book or a woman, both experiences only work for me as long-haul commitments. I don’t read a lot of short stories anymore, either. Same reason.

I have also realized that I am not very comfortable judging flash fiction. The rules for it are quite different. The expectations. The tropes. There was a time when I was very well versed in the genre of science-fiction short-shorts, but from what I’ve seen of flash – here and in the few other places I’ve encountered it – it’s not the same as short-short fiction. Or if it is, the parameters have changed since I last knew it well. What little I’ve seen of flash in the last year, seems more akin to textual performance art than to the micro-genre I once enjoyed.

So I can’t say Unselected immersed me fully, because it couldn’t sustain the effect. But it did captivate me at times. I can say that the prose and the editing are excellent. I can report that I was intrigued on several occasions, and that I even I laughed out loud once, too. But despite these pleasant surprises, I have decided that I won’t be reviewing more flash fiction books. It’s just not my cuppa. And since sustained immersion isn’t really the point of the flash genre, it’s not fair to judge it by that metric. So I’ve decided to stop, while I still have the vaguely pleasant after-taste from this experiment to savor.

I’d like to thank John for his initial enquiry, and for playing along. If flash fiction is your thing, consider taking a look. I’d be curious to see what the rest of you think.

The Unknown Sun, by Cheryl S. Mackey (13:00)
The Face-Stealer, by Robert Scott-Norton (5:28)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.