short story collections step into the
find something to read by:

You Have Time For This:
Contemporary American Short Short Stories

by Various
ed by Mark Budman and Tom Hazuka

Take a story from real life, one you are having trouble focusing. Cut the story in half. Cut it in half again. What you're left with is the essentials of the story you will be able to see more clearly. "

Reviewed by Pauline Masurel

Whether you love or hate very tiny stories, you can't argue with the premise of this title. This is a slim volume with a fresh blue and white cover. Inside is a magazine-style layout with interjecting illustrations and aphorisms. The format invites you to pop it in a bag for spare moments, or keep by a bedside for occasional reading. 

There are fifty-three short-short stories (or flash fictions) by forty-four writers, including the editors. The “contemporary American” contributors of the title appear to mostly be resident in the United States although several were born or live outside of the US. Each story is no longer than 500 words, no more than one or two pages. However, as this book would have it, “words must be weighed and not counted”. 

The characteristic of the best of these tiny tales is the way they juxtapose two elements and bring meaning from that proximity. For example, Mark Budman's story Dark Side of the Moon focuses on the premise that “violence determines conciseness” and sets an incident from childhood down against the modus operandi of a manager in later life. Chauna Craig's The Man With the Shovel “dreamed once of the trapeze” in contrast to his current occupation of lifting dead animals from the street surface. 

A surprising number of these stories examine the themes of violence and death in many different settings, including a thought-provoking triptych by Bruce Holland Rogers about soldiers' experience of war. But there are also liaisons, ghosts and everyday life. After a while the stories begin to speak to each other, their muses rubbing together to spark new fire. 

Most of the stories are essentially realist, but some of the stand-out tales lift off from a “what if”. Examples are Deb Olin Unferth's story of a woman who becomes machine and Aimee Bender's child who eats elephants. Other fantastic stories about appetite include the man with a mouth on top of his head and a woman who develops facial anorexia and starts starving her appearance of attention. All It Loves by Avital Gad-Cykman blurs the boundaries between fantasy and metaphor with her descriptions of the sun on the landing. 

Few of these stories are experimental in form, even if they take liberties with the dramatic story arc. An exception is Bruce Taylor's Exercise which slices a story down from 257 words to 128 to 63, all within plain sight of the reader (although I fretted about why he didn't use 256, 128 and 64 words instead.) It's a revelation of the short-short surgeon's art to see three versions alive and functioning together. 

There's plenty of beautiful lyrical writing, including Sonya Taaffe's Skins on Sule Skerry

When first they met, he stole her skin: cheaper than a wedding ring and twice as clear. All the soft storm greys, marbled silver and watered white silk... 

For all of their brevity, there's little hurriedness in these stories. They take the time to say what they need to, and to say it well.

Pauline Masurel recently wrote four tiny book reviews for Amateur Gardening Magazine in a single afternoon. She has always wanted to write a story so short that it cannot be read with the naked eye, but if she ever succeeds you’ll only have her word for it.

Pauline's other Short Reviews: Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Carson McCullers "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe"   

Jeffrey Eugenides (ed) "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead" 

PublisherOoligan Press

Publication Date: November 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?Yes

Editors: Mark Budman, Tom Hazuka

Editor bios: Mark Budman and Tom Hazuka are both short-short writers themselves and their stories are featured in this volume. Mark is co-editor of the flash fiction magazine, Vestal Review, and Tom is a Pushcart Prize nominee who has edited several other short fiction anthologies.

Awards: Silver Award in the Publishers Association of the West Book Design Awards

Buy this book (used or new) from:




And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit  IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US

If you liked this book you might also like....

Margaret Atwood "Good Bones" & "The Tent"

Jim Crace "The Devil's Larder"

Stacy Taylor (ed) "Heavy Glow Anthology"

What other reviewers thought: