The Best Small Fictions series is officially two for two – it can boast the most important book published last year with BSF 2015 and the most important book published this year with BSF 2016. And as it continues to establish itself alongside such renowned series as Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories, this significance will not wane.
The stories have been electricity, the writers bold and inventive, fresh. The editors are the same, diligently combing nominated stories that might otherwise have remained unknown by the wider readership without BSF. In every essence, the series simply cannot be overestimated. It is a literary lightning bolt moving from cloud to ground, unstoppable.
Setting aside the number of fantastic short stories collected in BSF 2016, the continued publication of this series and the work done by series editor Tara Masih is, in and of itself, a milestone for the short story form. Couple this with writers such as Robert Olen Butler and Stuart Dybek at the peak of their craft working as guest editors and you have pure form magic.
And then there are the stories.
Found in Best Small Fictions 2016 are stories ranging from the surreal to the painfully real, from the subtly powerful to the sharp and gutsy. In David Naimon’s “Past a Roar Complete” first published in Fiction International, Naimon takes on the immense subject of life choices by placing a boat full of people on a river that reaches a fork. In lesser hands, this could be fumbled, dropped carelessly into cliche, but with the short form, Naimon instead shines, and does so right at the beginning.
“We had always gone, at the split, to the left, on a truncated stretch of sinister river so short it was really a rive, or a riv, or a ri…But today, a day like so many others, the boatman dragged his oars against the current, turned to face us, revealed his face to us by unhooding his head, and said, nodding it, ‘What would happen if we went the other direction?’”
Bold. Inventive. Electric.
Of course, brevity is a trademark of the Best Small Fictions series and there may be no better example in this year’s volume than David Boyd’s translation of Toh Enjoe’s “A Thousand and One Tongues.” First published in Monkey Business International, the piece stands as a masters course on imagery at only 67 words. Without quoting from the text due to its brevity, simply know it also doubles as an excellent statement on the process of storytelling and the often compulsive nature of the craft itself.
One of the most critical moments in any short story is the first sentence. In shorter short stories, flash pieces, this becomes paramount. There’s a feeling that the reader must not only be grabbed but held tightly throughout the experience. There are plenty of standouts in Best Small Fictions 2016. Here is a sampling:
From Janey Skinner’s “Carnivores,” first published in KYSO Flash – “Most people, by which I mean seven- to twelve-year-old boys, have a certain fascination with my species.”
From Nathan Leslie’s “A New Cycle,” first published in his collection Root and Shoot (Texture Press): “Each dog has its corner.”
From Courtney Sender’s “The Solidarity of Fat Girls,” first published in American Short Fiction: “It is your luck to be the brother of three fat girls.”
From Megan Giddings’s “Good-bye, Piano,” first published in matchbook: “We smashed the piano with a sledgehammer out on the front yard.”
From Laurie Blauner’s “The Unsaid,” first published in The Collagist: “‘Those are my people, the ones who worship someone broken in the other room,’ my mother said before and after.”
From Justin Lawrence Daugherty’s “A Thing Built to Fly Is Not a Promise,” first published in Pithead Chapel: “Amelia Earhart just wanted to go home.”
There is the feeling of something sincerely great in the work Best Small Fictions 2016 has offered, a tangible type of lifeforce some may have thought was lost in our most American form of literature. And there’s no sign of it losing momentum at this point. Though the series recently had an internal change with Braddock Avenue Books taking over the publishing partnership from Queen’s Ferry Press this year, you can be certain BSF 2017 will keep up the pace. Braddock Avenue Brooks and Masih have already announced the guest editor for next year, and she’s a force of nature.
When you have Amy Hempel choosing short stories, how can you honestly go wrong?