Sunday, May 13, 2007

More Fiction for the Attention Impaired

New Sudden Fiction
Robert Shapard and James Thomas, editors

New Sudden Fiction is a collection of short-short stories by various authors from all over the world, some of whom are well known (such as Joyce Carol Oates, Yann Martel, and David Foster Wallace) and some of whom are not (such as Robin Hemley and Peter Orner). Although these stories are not as short as those contained in the flash fiction collection, they are still quite short (short enough to be called “sudden”). There are 60 stories in all, and although it isn’t possible for me to discuss all of them, or even all the ones I really liked (there were simply too many of those), I will briefly touch on my favorites.

My favorite story of them all was David Foster Wallace's (whose Infinite Jest I've just begun, despite the fear the large tome inspires in me) "Incarnations of Burned Children," which provides a glimpse into every parent's nightmare: an overturned pot of boiling water, a crying infant, helpless parents. The story's prose, composed of long, breathless sentences, forces the reader to feel the situation's urgency. This story also contains my favorite line in the entire collection, the best line I've encountered in a while, in fact: "If you've never wept and want to, have a child." See? That's what I've been saying.

A lesser known writer, Katherin Nolte, also explores how one fast action can forever change one's life (as well as the lives of others) in "Before the Train and After," which won the Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition in 2004. In it, Nolte tells of a man forever altered by a rash decision to reach out and touch a moving train as it roars past. What is a seemingly harmless (though juvenile) act has life-long effects, especially since the train takes off his hand in the process. The loss of his hand causes more than the obvious physical limitations, as Nolte proves.

Further exploring the life-long effects of a rash action (albeit in a fun, humorous way) is Robin Hemley, who breaks from these more serious tales with his contribution to the collection. His "Reply All" is a story told through a chain of emails, one of which was inadvertently sent to a group of people instead of the sole recipient for which it was intended (I'm sure you can see where this is headed). Of course, some very personal secrets are exposed, secrets which cannot be ignored, and why should they be -- everyone else has a chance to reply as well. "Reply All" was the most fun to read and definitely stands as a reminder to always proof your emails before hitting send.

In a nutshell: A great collection for lovers of contemporary short fiction. With 60 stories to choose from, you probably won't like them all, but the majority are well worth the time.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5 out of 6 stars


از زبان ديگران 2 said...

I am an Iranian translator and i have translated some of the stories of the book into Farsi.They are really fantastic stories.

Matt said...

I've just started Infinite Jest as well. It took me a couple days to get myself to start, even after I'd decided to start reading it. It's very imposing.

Dewey said...

I love your use of photos in your posts.

Bibliolatrist said...

Thanks, Dewey!

Sometimes I feel they look hokey, so it's good to hear some positive feedback. :)