D.G. MARTIN: Flash Fiction to the Rescue
A reader told me the other day, "I just can't read all those books you write about in your column. So tell me the one North Carolina book or author that I should read."
Now, that is a difficult assignment. In fact it is an impossible one for me. Which of the thousand North Carolina-related books that come out each year would be the right one for that reader -- or for you?
I just can't help you, except to say: Go to your local bookstore and tell the owner or manager about books you have already read and liked. I will bet that he or she will have two or three "must read" options for you in a flash.
There is another way. A new book, published just a few days ago, makes it possible to quickly read a good sample of the work of 65 of North Carolina's best fiction writers. You can try the authors out and pick the ones who are best for you.
The new book, "Long Story, Short" (edited by Marianne Gingher and published by UNC Press) has assembled a set of very, very short stories, one for each author. Each story is so short you can read it in less than five or 10 minutes. The name for such short shorts is "flash fiction." While they are short, the stories have character, plot, and some resolution or message to go along with the entertainment they deliver.
For example, Lee Smith's "Sex, Love, Death, Sex, High School" puts the reader in the shoes of a Virginia mountain high school girl who puts aside the warnings about the dangers of "petting" and finds "romantic fever" in the front seat of a "rusty old pickup."
Lee's former student, Jill McCorkle, writes in "Viewmaster" about a second wife's effort to deal with a photo her husband keeps in his office. The photo shows her husband and his ex-wife in a very happy pose.
The second wife wonders why he keeps this picture close by and why he does not understand that it makes her upset.
Sarah Dessen, a former student of Jill McCorkle, gives us a story of a jilted bride-to-be dealing with the follow-ups to a called-off wedding. In "Registry," Dessen writes in the voice of the jilted woman, who wonders, among many other things, why she must return the wedding gifts.
Michael Malone takes his favorite North Carolina local law-enforcement office to Christmastime in New York City. In "Nero," our fellow Tar Heel, Cuddy Mangum, with the help of a cat, solves a murder in fewer than five pages, perhaps a world's record for the shortest murder mystery.
Daniel Wallace's "Laura, Linda, Sweetie Pie" is a humorous look at authors' use of real people in their fiction.
Haven Kimmel's "The Dream" gives readers a look at the changing friendship of two 14-year-old girls, one of whom is carried away by her attraction to her new boyfriend and the excitement of sex, while the other painfully remembers the joy of friendship before boys.
Will Blythe's "The End," is a story made up mostly of one or two sentence descriptions of the deaths of many different people. Here is a sample: "He died of a massive coronary while trying to sneak his ball from the rough on the ninth hole of Pinehurst No. 2, leaving the other members of his foursome in a quandary about whether to joke about this with his widow."
These seven authors recently read their stories in less than an hour at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Chapel Hill Public Library. Their stories and 58 more are waiting for you in "Long Story, Short."
It is a literary smorgasbord.
D.G. Martin is the author of "Interstate Eateries," a guide to family-owned home-cooking restaurants near North Carolina's Interstate highways. UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch" returns on Sunday, Sept. 27, when the guest will be Elizabeth Edwards, author of "Resilience."
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