The Best Small Fictions, 2019. A review by Mark Budman

We’re delighted to publish Mark Budman’s review of The Best Small Fictions 2019. We nominate Bath Flash Fiction Award winners for this prestigious anthology each year. And in the 2019 Anthology we were thrilled that our October 2018 first prize winner, Fiona Mackintosh’s historical flash fiction, ‘Siren’, was selected by the editors as was ‘When The Rubber Hits The Road‘ our second prize winner from the February 2018 Award by Lee Nash There are also stories by Flash Fiction Festival Team members and workshop presenters Karen Jones, whose story Mark mentions, Meg Pokrass, whose magazine New Flash Fiction Review is also featured in the anthology, and Santino Prinzi, who is also the judge of of our 14th Award, which closes on Sunday 16th February.

Mark Budman has been prominent in the world of flash fiction for many years as a writer and as the Editor of Vestal Review and it is interesting to read how he thinks the quality of flash fiction is improving year by year and how this anthology contains such memorable examples of the form. Exciting times for flash!

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Sonder Press (November 5, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 099975016X
ISBN-13: 978-0999750162

There was a discussion on Twitter recently, sparked by Stephen King’s comment about quality and diversity in writing and publishing. What I took from this discussion (besides that the word f*ck is an increasingly common argument in a cultural discourse) is that diversity doesn’t preclude quality. But what I realized after reading The Best Small Fictions 2019, is that diversity is quality. It’s hard to imagine that there would exist such quality fiction in 2019 if the authors and themes were the same as in 1919 or even 1999.
By diversity, I don’t mean the names of the writers, their background and their profile pictures, if the latter were the part of this publication, but their voices and themes they explored. It’s axiomatic that it’s hard for the authors to breathe in the confines of two-and-a-half page max, let alone to speak in the full voice. Yet one hundred and forty-six authors (or at least most of them) managed to do so.
This anthology can be used as who-is-who in the flash fiction field, as a guide to the writers where to send their work, but the intrinsic value for the readers greatly exceeds these side benefits. This volume is imbued with quality writing, and even the busiest of the reader has time to read short-short stories like that.
Most of the writers here have a long bibliography; some are the luminaries like Anna Beattie, Diana Williams and Lydia Davis.

I’ve been publishing flash fiction for 20 years, and been writing it even longer. I can attest to the steady improvement of the stories quality. To decide which stories stand out as the best of the best, I do what I learned from another anthology editor: not to calculate the score based on a set of numeric criteria, but to check which ones stay in my memory the longest. But then I realize that every other story in the anthology can pass this test. Still, I’d like to mention ‘The Convert’ by Maggie Cooper, from The Rumpus, ‘You’ve Stopped’ by Tommy Dean from Pithead Chapel, ‘My Father’s Girlfriend’ by Lenora Desar from Matchbook, ‘The Dream of the Moth’ by Laurette Folk from Waxwing, ‘Small Mercies’ by Karen Jones from Lost Balloon and ‘Therapeusw’ by Jeff Martin from Alaska Quarterly Review.
But ‘The Moon Rolling Back Her Eye’ by Vi Khi Nao from Noon is the most disturbing, haunting and beautiful of them all.
Of course, I have to mention ‘Bangkok, 1956’ by Dipika Mukherjee, not just because it’s a selection from Vestal Review, the magazine that I edit, but because it carries so much in such a small place.
Some stories in the anthology are not much more than exercises in attempted originality, but that’s rather the exception.
I also would want to bring your attention to the steady increase of stories that can be classified as magical realism or even science fiction, a genre that used to be rarely published by literary magazines. Such a trend also improves the quality and attractiveness of flash fiction.
As someone who had the privilege of standing closer to the source from which flash fiction sprung, I can see how wide and powerful this river has become. And this anthology is living proof of that.

Mark Budman is a first-generation immigrant. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness, Five Points, Guernica/PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim.

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