Flash Fiction of Varying Tones & Voices: A Lit Mag With Musical Accompaniment
NANO Fiction’s latest issue, Vol. 9, Number 1, offers a multisensory experience within and beyond the margins of the page. While the issue offers the usual series of brief (yet expansive!) fiction, it also includes six collaborations between flash fiction writers and classical music composers, although it would be reductive to leave it there. Some flash pieces are accompanied by music--the print edition includes their sheet music--while all have audio recordings of the authors reading the pieces. One thus finds herself with many materials at her disposal; I listened to the authors’ voices as I read and reread the short stories, then followed along with the sheet music as I listened to the strings. The experience begs the question: how do stories, art, and music relate? For that matter, how do we use different media to speak to and work with subjectivities of different people?
It’s an issue well put together, as well. NANO Fiction includes flash of varying tones and voices and yet feels coherent; fear, grief, causation, memory, relationships, anthropomorphism, surrealism, and understatement appear as themes and modes which cohere into a narrative arc, particularly where an introduction to the music on the website appears halfway in, on page twenty-eight. Whereas the works prior to the “intermission” feel more “one-note” with less “reverb,” and loose in relation, the pieces thereafter seem to offer more complex, interlocking narratives. On the one hand, the stories thereafter are complicated by the inspired music, and yet, on the other hand, they’re also complicated by their interrelatedness; their tension comes from a strengthening bond between the stories, which, again, may be fostered by the repetitious imagery of the sheet music. Overall, the issue asks us to consider what kind of flash fiction pieces might best lend themselves to music, and how music may have a visual dimension as well.
An apt one-page length story, “Laundry Girl,” by Naoko Fujimoto opens the issue--apt because it shows how fiction can itself be symphonic by offering layers of narrative that suggest multiple voices and/or situations. To give you an idea, “Laundry Girl” begins:
Bubbling shells still sleep under the sand. They are making forms between their tight closed rims. White shirts are fluttering.
The laundry girl kept bubbling with her saliva.
She said, “If I tell you my name, are you going to be my mother?”
“Laundry Girl,” with its metaphoric associations made between sea creatures and laundry and adoption, crams into a small space a fictional “fugue” to evoke immediate subjective responses the way music does. The tone, strange imagery, and rhythmic sentences work together to evoke an instant sense of unease and loss in the reader, much like the way music immediately effects listeners with tempos, certain combinations of notes, intertwining melodies. These are not sentences that move forward linearly as the prose poem or essay appears to offer, but rather, they circle back, recursively, creating knots of tension that the reader must undo as her eyes move across the page.
Several other pieces in the issue have this cross-cutting component, which give them a symphonic feel, while still others feel more like monologues, like linear pieces that move toward a mood of expansiveness or final question. I was particularly drawn to Sarah Hulyk Maxwell’s “Whales in Minnesota,” which, without giving too much away, depicts two young characters exposed themselves to a potentially dangerous situation on ice. The story says a lot in a few words, leaving off on a resounding question about the costs of vulnerability and exposure.
One of the first pieces inspired by music is Kelly Luce’s “Outside,” which itself alludes to music--and in this particular story, its permanence. This breathtaking sentence in Luce’s piece haunts the rest of the collection and, at least in part, pivotally contributes to its orchestral success: "This was how I learned about voices, which were the one part of the person that existed everywhere."
What a sentence! It leads us through stories where statements made aloud--or mere noises--kill, disappoint, prophesy, and/or disorient. One feels entirely at the behest of all these sounds and allusions to sound while reading, which, within the architecture of the the issue, reverberate and talk over one another. Beware: this issue will put you in a trance for days. Powerful stuff.