John Brantingham’s report on Novella in Flash 2024

Thanks very much to John Brantingham for judging our 2024 Award, and for his encouraging general comments as well as the specific remarks about the winners listed below. John is a big fan of the novella in flash, having also written several himself and we absolutely agree that all these novellas should be out in the world.

You can also read John’s previous comments on the longlist and short list and read more about the winners and commended below. As stated in our Award details, Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing the top three this year Hereafter,the first prize winner and the runners up, Nose Ornaments and Marilyn’s Ghost.

John writes:

I am thrilled with all of the novellas-in-flash in this year’s contest. Each of these had diverse subject matter, styles, and approaches to fiction writing, but I loved that each of them used the novella-in-flash form to help distill what they were saying about the world. In addition to this one unifying element, they also all dealt with those most powerful moments of the human experience. They dealt with issues like breaking with the past as one moves on into the future, how to negotiate life in a small town, grief and loss, thoughts of suicide, and the way society constructs and deconstructs fame.
As with last year, I would encourage any of the writers whose work I read to find a publisher for their work. These were all interesting and innovative, and the decision for the final choice is to some degree subjective. I can say that I loved reading all of them. I would have bought them had they been on a shelf in a bookstore.

Highly Commended
The Man with the Glass Blown Head and Brick Wall Face
The Man with the Glass Blown Head and Brick Wall Face is a fascinating novella about a man who discusses the endless abuse and self-harm of toxic masculinity and staying closeted that leads to self-harm. This work contains an interesting intrusive narrator who not only presents the story but also provides commentary on what was happening and the greater meaning of it all in terms of how the main character views the world and is handled by the world. He still keeps us at a bit of a psychic distance, which is the perfect place to keep up because otherwise it would turn pedantic. It is not just a strong novella-in-flash, but the stand-alone stories have self-contained emotional catharses that are moving in their own right.

Highly Commended
Nine Inches of Rain
Nine Inches of Rain is a historical novella-in-flash set in August of 1952 when a storm ravages a small town. Aside from any other considerations, the story of how a group of people deal with and live through natural chaos is compelling. The characters and their reactions are human and telling. However, Nine Inches of Rain uses the novella-in-flash form to explore what life in 1952 in the United Kingdom outside of London was like. It looks at the values and interpersonal relationships of the people in this world.

Runner Up
Nose Ornaments
Nose Ornaments follows the lives of three generations of Indian women as they migrate from India to Arizona. It looks at the Indian diaspora during a time of quickly shifting norms for women, and each generation finds that it needs to break free from the traditions of the previous generation. By using multiple generations, the author is able to bring humanity not only to the women as they free themselves from social norms, but also to show how disconcerting it is for a person of the previous generation to watch as her daughter acts in a way that doesn’t make sense to the mother.

Runner Up
Marilyn’s Ghost
Marilyn’s Ghost is a fictionalized account of the death and days following Marilyn Monroe’s death. It is a discussion not only of the characters in the story but also the social mores that surrounded the icon and our understanding of her. The shifting point-of-view helps us to understand who she was and how people projected their fantasies upon her. Just as important is a shifting style and approach to narrative. The author uses as many different ways of storytelling as possible in this short novella-in-flash. Each of them helps us to understand a different aspect of what the writer is suggesting about Monroe and our understanding of her.

Hereafter is a powerful novella-in-flash about the nature of grief. A woman loses her child when he’s young. There is no one there for her and those people who should be part of her support system, mother and partner and others, are either missing from her life or so critical of it and her that she might as well be alone. So she has to find a way to live and survive without the help of others. Hereafter is also a discussion of what it is for a woman to grow and feel invisible in a culture obsessed with sexualizing youth. What stands out as one of its achievements of Hereafter is the way that the main character doesn’t experience grief in a linear fashion or predictably. Years later, she’ll be reminded of what she lost and will be drawn into the pain in unexpected ways depicting the way that grief functions in a realistic way.

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