Fissures by Grant Faulkner
Press 53, 2015
122 Pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Adam Padgett
Some years ago, Jason Sanford opined in his essay, “Who Wears Short Shorts? Micro Stories and MFA Disgust,” offering criticism toward the value of flash fiction, which was met with both approval and censure. There isn’t any question that a story can exist in very few words, but the question is about how seriously very short fiction can be taken as a narrative art form. Given the limitations of the form, abstraction and fragmentation tend to be tools with which these stories are often created. Regardless of the discussion, the Internet has cultivated an environment for flash fiction to grow and thrive, and this genre of fiction is definitely thriving.
In Grant Faulkner’s collection of very short fiction, Fissures [One Hundred 100-Word Stories], Faulkner manages to elevate his language, presenting each word here with the rhetorical weight of a novel and with a poetic aptitude that is anything but self-indulgent. Faulkner has, instead, carefully crafted these stories, and each word comes at the reader as high currency. In “The Scar,” the mark of an old gash etched down the protagonist’s face serves as the central conflict as the story tells of how he copes and lives with his deformity. “Brianna planted tiny bourbon kisses around the scar as if her lips could heal. Mathilde traced it with her finger, an archeologist of hurt. Tavi just stared at it.” In 29 words, the reader gets a strong sense of Henry’s life, and this kind of compression is what makes Fissures work. Faulkner’s gift is his ability to tell a whole heck of a lot of story in a very small amount of space.
In “Vapors,” a couple wades through a day of depression and obsession. “Barbiturate thoughts traipsed through his head like an ancient centipede picking up one leg at a time. Sunlight fringed the door, a taunt. All the air held an annoying menthol crispness, as if he’d fallen into a container of Vick’s VapoRub.” The sensory details here are pristine and precise. The story accomplishes what fiction should: placing the reader empathically in the vivid shoes of another.
Thematically, Fissures explores notions of desire in its myriad forms. In an eight-story sequence entitled “The Filmmaker: Eight Takes,” Fissures addresses Alexander who is making a film about India’s brothels. Alexander says he is “fascinated by relationships of power and labor.” The story sequence follows this character through the arc of his life until his ultimate realization that “age voided desire.” Alexander’s story is one of tragedy, of how this young artist, a despondent hedonist, is left insatiable – perhaps serving as a critique of the plight of artists.
The brevity of micro fiction does lend itself well to the attention-deficient reader. But the truth about a lot of flash fiction is that readers simply do not get enough time or space to feel immersed and invested in a new story, and Fissures can, at times, suffer from this shortcoming. The start-and-stop reading experience can be tiring, and it will take longer to read these 10,000 words as compared to the first 10,000 words of longer stories. Readers should take time to recover after reading a book, and there will undoubtedly be recovery time for Fissures.
Generally speaking, the shorter the piece the more of punch each word should pack. A good piece of flash should read like a shot of whiskey: quick but with a warm burn lasting several moments later. The experience of reading Fissures certainly felt this way most of the time. I’m not sure if the collection should be read all at once, perhaps only a handful of stories at a time might be advisable. In which case, maybe a scotch metaphor would be better served here.
In truth, the survival and continued proliferation of flash fiction depends on the Internet, and Fissures may very well not exist if not for the digital space in which the genre has found its largest audience. Readers interested in finding the best in contemporary flash fiction should browse the digital pages of SmokeLong Quarterly, [PANK], Word Riot, and several other fine online journals. But readers should also give Fissures a try. While the very short form tends to work best on computer screens, there’s something more intimate at work here in the printed medium. Faulkner has composed stories that are dark, mysterious and, at times, hilarious. Fissures disrupts traditional conventions of storytelling in a very good way, and when your heart breaks with these characters, Faulkner carefully and wisely reassembles the pieces.