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A collection of very short pieces—some less than one page, none longer than two—that find inspiration in character sketches written by the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus.

Heynen (The One-room Schoolhouse: Stories About the Boys, 1993, etc.) suggests in his introduction that the “brief verbal snapshots” of his classic model provided the genesis of this collection; the title and the gentle humor throughout attest to his own generosity of spirit. Only one character has a name—the protagonist of the final story, “John Doe” (and he moves through pseudonyms in a “pursuit of anonymity” that draws more unwanted attention to him). Every other protagonist (and the majority of these stories have only one character) is an Everyman or -woman characterized by some eccentricity that may seem odd but isn’t evil and makes for some sort of common bond with the rest of the human menagerie. The author suggests that he might even be “mocking himself” in some of these pieces, “several of which are thinly disguised self-portraits.” You might not want to invite him home if he’s the hero of “Keeping One’s Secret,” whose “secret was that he urinated wherever he pleased.” Many of the stories, like that one, are essentially character description without the sort of chronological progression that could be termed plot, but those with some action read more like parables or fables. “The Girl and the Cherry Tree” is about a girl who's warned that “if you don’t stop eating so many cherries, cherries will start growing out of your ears.” And they do! As a pre-emptive strike, “The Book Reviewer” suggests the sort of disdain that the author of such a collection might feel toward those who will try to categorize it, concluding that it’s “all a matter of taste, anyhow.”

Perhaps “flash fiction” is the name for these stories, but Heynen has been writing them since before that term came into vogue.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-57131-090-3
Page count: 150pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2014


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