Barry Graham and company are back again with another collection of zany, manic, and at times maddening flash fiction–and this edition of the Dogzplot Annual is their best yet. Eschewing a traditional foreword or letter from the editor explaining the journal’s philosophy, thoughts on the state of the written word, or any other self-gratifying material that readers generally skip over anyway, the book’s front matter simply offers the following description (or is it a warning?): 200 WORDS OR LESS. Yet brevity is all the pieces have in common. Well, okay, they also have quality in common, but, stylistically and thematically, the collection is all over the map.
In “The Evolution of Masturbation,” for example, Ani Smith meditates not, as the title might suggest, upon masturbation but upon the biological processes (cell-division, etc.) that occur during gestation. Given that the focus of the piece is the gestation of women, it’s not surprising that some of Smith’s language (e.g., “two by two, everything two by two”) hearkens to Feminist theorist Luce Irigaray’s “The Sex Which is Not One,” but the final line of the piece, which describes the vagina as “a cubby hole for worthless possessions” feels like a particularly savage response to Ezra Pound’s “Portrait d’une Femme,” in which the femme in question is described, more or less, as the sum total of all the useless junk that her suitors have left her.
Then there’s “The Particulars” by Bartley Seigel, which reads like a word game. Sentences like “She is peopled with ghost fires speaking through voice pipes, her thinking a feeling fractured” must, the reader assumes, mean something–but what? And I don’t say this snidely at all. I say it because I want to know, and because the sentence demands that the reader stay with it. In other words, this isn’t disposable writing. This is writing that requires attention, writing that challenges.
My favorite piece in the collection is “Dead Ringer” by Ravi Mangla. Its premise is that the narrator has discovered a perfect double for his dead father walking the aisles of a Sam’s Club. Needless to say, wacky highjinks involving a sort-of blind date with the narrator’s mother ensue, and the result is a twisted window into middle-American family values.
Overall, a great, fast-paced collection–highly recommended for fans of flash fiction or for anyone who’s curious to see what flash fiction is all about (and how many different forms it can take).