A writer of eclectic novels, stories and poems turns playful with this short collection of “flash fiction.”
A professor of creative writing (Ron Carlson Writes a Story, 2007, etc.) who is best known for his mastery of longer-form fiction, Carlson here turns his attention to the much shorter form. Not short like Lydia Davis, but few of these stories are longer than a couple of pages, a few are poems, and some seem mainly to be exercises in postmodern narrative strategy. The opening, “You Must Intercept the Blue Box before It Gets to the City,” for example, uses the imperative mode, as if addressing the reader (“Get that box!” it starts). Yet the “you” who is implied early on and subsequently addressed directly eventually develops into a character who, though unnamed, is definitely someone other than the reader: “You admire your nephew, he’s in the top rank of the institute, but you don’t love him. He’s annoying and smug and expresses so many things in decimals.” The collection is divided into four parts, with the second being the funniest and least conventional in terms of storytelling. Most of these pieces involve the academic world, and three in a row are letters of recommendation: one for a student who is apparently living in his car outside the professor’s house, another for one who consistently sleeps through class (“a personable, extremely polite young lady who would fit well in any graduate school environment”) and the third for “that rare thing: the ideal student” who makes no trouble because he's dead. The last section would seem to be spooky stories about teenagers, longer than most of the earlier ones, with titles such as “Horror Story at Lonely Lake” and “Teenagers Are Going Overnight to the Island without Supervision!,” with something close to a plot and named characters, though one of them (“We Went Up to Quencher’s Point”) has an abrupt disconnect in the middle.
If one of these doesn’t engage you, it’ll only be a minute before you can proceed to the next.