The twenty-five flash fictions in Stronger Faster Shorter Flash Fictions (Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press, 2015) form a chronological narrative spanning a boy’s childhood in the 1970’s to adulthood. Each flash provides a sense of the narrator inviting the reader to peer into the past and experience the emotional truth of ‘our world, up the M6’ (as termed in Butlins with Books). Sometimes the narrator looks back with a measured eye, at other times he is rummaging in the past rediscovering people and places that recall further memories and provoke reflection.
There is a nostalgic quality throughout as the narrator shines a flashlight on a multitude of emotionally resonant characters including: a singing alcoholic, a goat murderer, a spoon playing war veteran, CB radio hams, pigeon fanciers, a university student, war survivors, a burned man on a bus and an ex-lover’s friend.
In the exuberant title story Stronger Faster Shorter and in Running in the Yards (Lancashire, 1975) the narrator recalls memories of belonging to a group of boys. Although the title story is told in past tense the first person adult voice opens the flash without a clear retrospective filter — the distance between the real and the imagined disappears:
‘Our bodies had been destroyed in catastrophic high-speed accidents, then put together again by scientists using bionic technology.’
The filter is removed then returns but disappears at the same time the narrator makes a discovery in the playground. The final change in narrative voice echoes the narrator’s transitional moment.
Running in the Yards (Lancashire, 1975) pulls the reader along with the narrator as he and the other boys run in joyful hope of catching a glimpse of someone they imagine to be a train robber.
Weaving through the flash fictions is a theme focused on how real life makes its journey into fiction: in Smile and Comb Your Hair and Malvinas the question of ownership of stories and the way they are told is illuminated when the narrator, as a cub reporter, covers a Falklands’ War homecoming. In Theatre Trip During a Storm the narrator reflects on how his home town is represented in a play staged in his home town:
‘The set was built from the wrong kind of bricks.’
Children of Dirt and Thunder the most declarative in tone almost demands that we don’t look for stories in the dramatic but find them in the quiet moments:
‘Sometimes there are no tales to tell.’
The nature of how we remember, what we remember and the role of our imagination is also a recurring theme. In Heavy small details in the present act as triggers to conjure up a young woman’s ghost-like presence in university halls. As a young boy in The People in the Desert the narrator asks his neighbour about the rose tattooed on his arm. The real story the man offers is devastating yet the flash fiction ends on a warm, reflective note as the narrator remembers the impact of the story his neighbour passed on.
In Swann’s collection all the stories are delivered without a bang, working together to reveal a rite-of-passage narrative. A single flash fiction asks the reader to fill in gaps, so in a collection of flash fictions shaped into a narrative arc the reader is even freer to make the connections, to imagine.
David Swann is also known for his poetry and just as with poetry flash fiction warrants slow reading. I would suggest you pepper them throughout your day, or over two days, or three, or even more. Make the most of these flash fictions told with warmth and sometimes humour but always without fanfare or drama.
Review by Jeanette Sheppard
Jeanette Sheppard is currently working on a collection of flash fiction. Her work has been published in the 2016 and 2014 National Flash Fiction Day anthology and online in Litro Magazine and The Lonely Crowd. She was a winner of Mslexia’s monthly Flashcard and has been short-listed for The Short Story’s monthly competition (in both the flash fiction and short story categories) and The Fish Flash Fiction Prize. She has also been long-listed for the Bare Fiction Flash Fiction Prize and Flash500. She lives in the Midlands and can be found on Twitter @InkLinked.