The year I discovered flash fiction was incidentally the same year I discovered petits fours, the delicious bite-sized cakes and biscuits. Both are tiny, both are satisfying when done well, and both are an art form in their own right.
As a writer and reader of flash fiction, I know that it is very, very difficult to achieve that sense of satisfaction in so few words (generally under 1000). The brief nature of the form, however, can lend itself to experimentation far more so than longer short stories or novels.
In terms of language flash fiction has much in common with poetry. Every word matters. Characters must be sketched with economy, more like a line drawing than a painting. You have to absorb the reader from the first line, and the sum of the story should be far more than the individual words. In short, it should take flight.
My first impression of the book was how entirely gorgeous it is; the covers are artworks, the paper is thick, the font is pleasing and the size is just so unusual: square and begging to be gift-wrapped.
There are twenty-two stories in total, each tiny, complete slivers of life. The reader slices through at a tangent: details, snatches of conversation, brushstroke backgrounds are picked up on the way past.
Several of the stories spin around experimental concepts: a mechanical woman finds her perfect mate; a woman vomits animals; a gardener talks to his flowers, who listen; a man just fades away. You are trusted to not need explanation. For me they work as stories because you don’t feel the need to ask why, although if you aren't a fan of the off-kilter this could be a drawback.
Other stories are more conventional. My favourite of these is 'Sobs', about two lonely people in adjoining hotel rooms.
Some stories are more successful than others, but all of them work as good flash fiction should: they are greater than the sum of their parts. In ‘Seconds are Ticking By’ and ‘Shark Boy’ I felt Nik Perring demonstrates just what flash fiction should be when it is perfect: they flew. Then they lodge themselves inside you and flutter for long after you’ve read them.
If this book were food it would be an exquisite plate of petits fours. You admire them and nibble at them, wary of guzzling or you’d finish too soon. They are perfectly delicious.
'Not So Perfect' by Nik Perring is released 2nd June 2010