edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas
WW Norton & Co
is the limit of my limits: here it is. You don’t ever know for sure
where it is and then you bump against it and bam, you’re there.
Because I cannot bear to look down into the water and not be able to
find him at all, to search the tiny clear waves with a microscope
lens and to locate my lover, the one-celled wonder, bloated and
bordered, brainless, benign, heading clear and small like an
eye-floater into nothingness."
Rememberer by Aimee Bender
by James Murray-White
Sudden Fiction is probably the definitive anthology of short short
fiction published up to 2007. The editors have gathered together 60
stories, all under 2,000 words, within the genre of "sudden"
fiction, not flash or merely short, but sudden, and most of them are
arresting, jolting to the senses even. On their two-year reading and
collecting journey, James Thomas and Robert Shapard brought together
many of the biggest literary names: Joyce Carol Oates, Yann Martel,
Nobel-winning Nadine Gordimer, Sam Shepard, Peter Orner, Roy Kesey
and David Foster Wallace to name just a few, as well as providing a
crucial platform for many others who have now made a name for
themselves, and also the complete unknowns whose stories are absolute
the third reading of this book, lots of social history within fiction
jumps out at me: Jenny Holloway's wonderful A Short History of
Everything, Including You, which marries the bigger picture of
human existence with a personal narrative, and then the creeping
nature of "forgetting" as the end draws near. Also Ronald F.
Currie Jr's Loving The Dead, with its cracking opening line: "Autumn comes to Maine, and I begin to hate freely again". After
such a great start the story pounds along – it's a potted
personal history that encompasses failed expectations, the highs and
extreme lows of the American class system, and much disappointment
and sadness in between.
Shepard's Berlin Wall Piece also explores time, social and
personal history, here through the prism of an adolescent's
changing relationship with their father and sister. A sharp and
concise piece, nagging at the underbelly of society, as I've come
to expect from Shepard, perhaps the Harold Pinter of American
delightful and ever-surprising Aimee Bender contributes a
human/social history story through her specialism of magical realism.
In The Rememberer the female narrator experiences an
evolutionary shift in her relationship, beyond the scale I can
imagine of human experience, and copes with it poetically: "We're
all getting too smart. Our brains are just getting bigger and bigger,
and the world dries up and dies when there's too much thought and
not enough heart."
this 368-page paperback collection doesn't rest there, it spins off
into first person narrative – check out Toure's I Shot the
Sheriff, absolutely riffing on Bob Marley's song, Roy Kesey's
Scroll, as gritty and as enthralling as the painter is
determined, with his "seventy nine thousand, six hundred and
eighteen pound" load, that is simply, "a painting, scrolled, end
of story." Ron Hansen manages to inject humour into the death of a
pet in My Kid's Dog, and Robin Hemley's Reply All
had me cringing with embarrassment at his tale of shenanigans and
emerging truths at the Poetry Association of the Western Suburbs,
PAWS for short! A must-read story amongst very many of those gathered
here, this one had me squirming in my airplane seat during a recent flight, and vowing to
check and double-check any group emails I ever send.
stories don't quite deliver that expectant jolt: Ronald Frame's A
Piece of Sky got me back in my beloved Edinburgh with it's "crowning glory" of sky, and the slow burn of a relationship
dying over a jigsaw, but didn't deliver a stunning story from all
the pieces it threw out. Also Zdravka Evitmova's Blood has
visceral power in its story, but doesn't quite deliver. Mole's
blood? That's a great image, but I felt the story could have moved
beyond the pet shop and its limiting range.
Gordimer's Homage however has that slow burn of a sudden
story: creepiness and indefinableness, despite a coldly described
assassination at its core. There are few expositions of a hired gun's
perspective – here I felt sorry for this nomadic assassin, cut
loose after his despicable crime, returning to lay a "cheap bunch
of roses held by an elastic band wound tight between their crushed
leaves and wet thorns [……..] where my name is buried with him."
I've tried to convey, this is a big collection with such a range of
emotions, characters, stories and situations both funny and tragic
and wavering between. It is a classic collection, perhaps the classic
collection, one that should be on everyone's shelf, be they a
writer, a reader, or simply a keen anthropologist of the human heart.
to the editors for such a tremendous job: I feel New Sudden
Fiction more than qualifies for the Friedrich Medal (many thanks
to author Patricia Marx for inaugurating this landmark).