Flash Fiction Magazine Showcases a Certain Kind of Magic
Vestal Review calls itself “the oldest magazine dedicated exclusively to flash fiction.” It has been published continuously since March 2000, which is indeed a good run for a small print literary journal. As an online venue, Vestal Review is ancient! Vestal Review currently inhabits both worlds, publishing a semi-annual print issue and featuring selected pieces on their newly updated, and quite handsome, website. I’m reviewing the online aspect of this journal here.
People can mean a lot of things when they talk about flash fiction. Usually it’s a story that can be told in one thousand words or less. Vestal Review’s limits are even more constrained, with their pieces no longer than 500 words long. What you’ll find here are small, jewel-like stories where realism usually is bent and burnished by a compression that often gives way to brilliant insights, strange landscapes, and wonderful flights of emotions. Most of the work here treads the borderland between narrative and prose poetry. Vestal Review has published work by authors such as Aimee Bender, Mike Resnick, and Robert Olen Butler to name a few. They are an official Pushcart Prize nominating press.
Issue 48 features five stories plus the two winners of their Flash Fiction 2014 Award. While some of these stories appealed to me more than others, I found them uniformly strong, intriguing and worth my time. Each bore rereading, which is a good indicator that the story is working, since stories as short as these must necessarily leave to your imagination almost as much as is on the page.
“Babble Babel” by Elizabeth Eve King is an improbable human inventory, which is intimately physical while also encompassing far-flung lands and geopolitics.
“Bump in the Night” by Paul Negri is a bitter stream-of-consciousness monologue from a father trapped in an unhappy marriage while he drives too fast on a dark, twisting road.
“Burial of Babylon” by Josh Stenberg is an enigmatic tale that takes place in a dark and frightening world of plagues and cages. The story’s meaning seems to shift just under the surface of the events and characters depicted.
“Full Story” by Joscelyn Willett is a snapshot of a web of long, troubled relationships given in three vignettes, labeled “beginning,” “middle,” and “end.” It is simple, lovely and evocative.
“The Only Things I Didn’t Love About My Wife” by Martin Hansen-Verma is a love story told in the form of a list. As the title suggests it is told in the negative, building a positive picture of the narrator’s love in the reader’s imagination.
Vestal Review also has an annual award for any story under 500 words published by any magazine in print or online in the calendar year. Here’s how it works: Nominations are sent by magazine editors, Vestal Review’s editors select four semifinalists, then open the voting up to their readership. For the 2014 award they received 473 votes, which isn’t bad at all for a niche contest in a niche market!
“Fireworks” by Matthew Fogarty, originally published in Pithead Chapel, won first prize. This was one of my favorites, a love story told backward through time. It evokes a specific place and time for the events of the story while letting the reader piece together the actions of the characters and the emotions that drive them.
“Resurrection Man: A Litany” by Sarah Martin Banse, originally published in Harvard Review, was the runner up. Here’s another story effectively told in reverse time order. This one is about a bad debt and a famous murder in 1840’s Boston.
I thoroughly enjoyed these stories and their presentation in issue 48. Vestal Review’s updated website is inviting and easy to navigate. I did find that accessing older issues a bit glitchy (I encountered some internal server errors). I suspect this is the downside to being one of the oldest web venues on the Internet. Hopefully, they will eventually migrate all their back issues the updated website over time.
Vestal Review is open to submissions during their reading periods, which are February through May and August through November. They are free to submit to and pay professional rates, but being a well established flash fiction venue means the competition is stiff. Here’s what they have to say about that in their own words:
“The works coming to us over the transom are generally either good or very good. The problem, however, is that good is the new average, and, therefore, is not enough. You must be excellent.”
There is a certain magic that happens in stories that are told in so few words. A good flash fiction story will feel much larger than the container that holds it, and each of these stories, whether they were to my taste or not, felt much larger than the few words used to convey them. Vestal Review is definitely worth your time.