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In the Land of the Free

Geoffrey Forsyth

Molly McGovern and I were making out in the student parking lot of our high school, getting all hot and heavy in the back of her mother’s Volvo, when a coin passed from her tongue to mine, and in the minutes that followed we played a great game of how long we could keep this coin moving back and forth between our tongues."

Reviewed by Steven Wingate

Flash 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. 

Generally 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. 

Some of the stories don’t deliver, however. The opening piece, In My Mother’s Kitchen, begins: "I 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 outward—through their characters—at the resonating world. 

The 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.

Steven 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 July 2Steven Wins008. He teaches at the University of Colorado.

Steven's other Short Reviews: Marianne Villanueva "The Mayor of the Roses"   


PublisherRose Metal Press

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback chapbook

First collection?Yes

Awards: Rose Metal Press Second Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, 2008

Author bio: Geoffrey 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 2007 Norton Anthology New Sudden Fiction. He lives with his wife and two children in La Grange Park, Illinois.

Read an interview with Geoffrey Forsyth

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