by Steven Wingate
So many short shorts veer toward willful absurdity for its own sake,
but Matt Bell’s How
the Broken Lead the Blind manages to get beyond that
stereotype in ways that will reward the reader. Bell does not veer
toward pyrotechnics, as so many practitioners of this burgeoning
subgenre do, but maintains the authorial discipline to give us thick,
complex insights into human wants and confusions.
Many of these stories take place in
a personal limbo, on a razor’s edge where things could turn out well or
turn out badly. We don’t usually stick around to learn the result, but
Bell gives us enough to go on. In the title story, a blind woman whose
seeing eye dog has been spoiled from too many treats goes running and
experiences a delicious loss of control before her inevitable crash. On
a sentence level throughout the collection, Bell finds moments like
these and uses propulsive, almost metrical language—often with skillful
short sentences—to create from them the sense of foreboding and
imminent surprise we have come to expect from flash fiction.
It is all too easy, in the tiny
spaces the subgenre provides, to succumb to its temptations: relying on
foreboding, summing people up, dismissing them, or ridiculing them for
their lack of self-understanding. But Bell, to his credit, refrains
almost entirely from easy potshots and maintains respect for the
unknown lives of his characters. (The
Present, a bit flippant and out of kilter with the rest of
the collection, is the lone exception). He creates a sense that his
characters are stuck in a murky purgatory and waiting—mostly with a
resigned but edgy patience—to see whether the next day holds an
opportunity for clarity. When we get to the end of their
stories we feel we’ve been given a snapshot of the moment that most
clearly exemplifies their struggles, yet that leaves us with something
left to explore in their inner lives. A quote from The Trophy Wife
exemplifies this approach well:
"Each statuette is frozen between
one motion and the next, a pose that tells you nothing. It is
impossible to know what will happen next when you only see the middle
of the story. This is the moment right before victory becomes failure,
or when a sure strike turns into a gutter ball."
This territory is becoming
traditional—and perhaps even hackneyed—for the short-short, and I am
happy to say that in How
the Broken Lead the Blind I learned more
about Bell's characters than the surface tension of this frozen pose
Bell tills the soil of flash
fiction well, with great
awareness of the subgenre's capabilities for peering efficiently into
the lives of his characters. But we learn considerably more than
nothing about them; from the well-rendered contours of their silence
and their stuck-ness, we learn enough to yield a probing, satisfying
Read one of the stories
from this collection on Storyglossia
Wingate's short story collection Wifeshopping
won the 2007 Bakeless Prize for fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’
Conference and was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2008. He teaches at
the University of Colorado.
Publisher: Willows Wept Press
bio: Matt Bell has authored two chapbooks, The Collectors and How the Broken Lead the Blind, and his fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Conjunctions, Meridian, Gulf Coast, Caketrain, Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle, and Keyhole. He is part of the Hobart web editing team and of the Dzanc Writer in Residence Program. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
with Matt Bell
Buy this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Willows WEpt (SOLD OUT)
website: MDBell.com - Free PDF Download
forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near
you in the US
you liked this book you might also like....
Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"
Claudia Smith "The Sky is a Well"
Geoffrey Forsyth "In the Land of the Free"
other reviewers thought: