by Steven Wingate
fiction often relies on either moments of magic and absurdity or on
snapshots of characters caught in the midst of life-defining action.
The the ten small stories in Geoffrey Forsyth’s In the Land of the Free,
which won the 2nd Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest from Boston-based
Rose Metal Press, cover both bases. The most successful of them offer
bull's-eye characterizations that show us the tip of much larger
icebergs; the least successful are very small icebergs in the whole,
and feel like simple observations of willfully odd moments.
speaking, this collection reads better when Forsyth moves us from a
rooted, comprehensible reality into the world of the absurd than when
the begins in the absurd and tries to work from there. Hunchbacks, for
instance, introduces us to two teenagers drinking in a graveyard and
launches into the unknown when one of them wishes that everyone in
their town grew a hunchback. Coins
features two teenagers making out, only to find that coins magically
appear in their mouths when they kiss. In both cases, the rootedness of
the stories allows Forsyth to point us beyond the borders of the events
he depicts and into a briefly-glimpsed netherworld in which life makes
more sense—though not always a sense that we (or the characters) are
prepared to fully comprehend. When he does this, Forsyth gives us what
we love most from flash fiction: epiphanic flashes of clarity,
understanding, and mystery.
of the stories don’t deliver, however. The opening piece, In My Mother’s Kitchen,
was born onto a cutting board in my mother’s kitchen.
Breadcrumbs stuck to my hair and skin. Every time I moved I picked up
more and more breadcrumbs." As
intriguing as this imagery may be, it
doesn’t allow Forsyth to go anywhere. The stories in this mode (Greens,
The Wall) point inward at themselves, rather than
characters—at the resonating world.
final piece of this chapbook, Mud—which
was deservedly included in
Norton’s 2007 New Sudden Fiction anthology—is dynamite by any standards
and closes In the Land
of the Free on a high note. In the story, a man
on getting ready to leave for work in the morning discovers that his
grandmother, father, and wife have all come back from the dead, covered
in mud, for a surprise visit. Mud
does exactly what we ask of flash
fiction: it crystallizes a character’s lifetime in a moment that helps
us—in some small, backwards, struggling way—to crystallize our own.
short story collection Wifeshopping won the 2007 Bakeless Prize for
fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was published by
Houghton Mifflin in July 2Steven Wins008. He teaches at the University of
Publisher: Rose Metal Press
Metal Press Second Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, 2008
Forsyth graduated from The School of the Art Institute of
Chicago. His fiction has appeared in Other Voices, New Orleans
Review, CutBank, RHINO, and elsewhere. His story Mud appeared in the
Anthology New Sudden Fiction. He lives with his wife and
two children in La Grange Park, Illinois.
with Geoffrey Forsyth
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