Flashes of Intimacy and Whimsy in Mag for Micro Stories
NANO Fiction publishes short fiction under 300 words. The most recent issue, Vol. 9.2, was guest edited by Kayla Rae Candrilli and includes a queer feature. There was an open call for queer writers to submit their work and this issue showcases the result. Entertainment for Men, a series of oil paintings by Samantha Nye, is featured throughout.
The stories in this issue have a linear, coherent structure and are very straightforward. There is no formal experimentation. They’re immediate and pull you in quickly. Nearly all contributors to this issue have previous publications and awards to their name. Many are working towards or have graduated from MFA programs.
It is very difficult to tell a story under 300 words, let alone one that resonates with readers. The beginning of this issue succeeds effortlessly on that front with the story “Of Felling” by Stephanie Devine, selected by Amber Sparks as winner of the 2015 NANO Prize. Following a family who has a tree removed by the city, it seamlessly juxtaposes the struggle of having a home uprooted with the struggle of miscarriage. This theme culminates perfectly with the image of the tree’s felling: “We weren’t ready,” the narrator says. “For the rope to be lifted away, for it to look so much like a tree when it was dead and hovering in front of us. Like life, suspended.” She feels immobile in her inability to move forward while simultaneously lamenting how change so often includes the sharp pangs of loss.
Throughout the pages of this issue, you will find flashes of both intimacy and whimsy. There is a coming of age story in “Wanting so closely” by Sossity Chiricuzio, in which a teenage girl recognizes her sexual desire for another teenage girl who refuses to recognize it: “I know what I want, and that she doesn’t want to know.” There’s “Real Money” by Chris Emslie, which tells the tale of a drunken fan of a drag queen who insists on being called Frank. Frank is ready to leave for Atlanta, “to make real money.” In these brief spaces, there is a yielding to transience and the ephemeral nature of things. In the funny “Overpopulation” series of flashes by John Michael, there is a literal war between humans and all other animals on the planet. The humans are forced to move wherever the animals tell them to go.
Unfortunately, there is a bit too much whimsy in this issue for me, the kind of whimsy that borders on the precious: there’s a son who is haunted by his mother’s ghostly Facebook notifications, there’s a man who walks around with his headstone, there’s a narrator who believes the hashtag #WCW stands for William Carlos Williams instead of Woman Crush Wednesday, and a woman who tries her hardest to substitute the penises in her fantasies with vegetables. After a while, it all seems to become one voice. You begin to expect stories starting off with sentences like, “They came dressed as Batman, and you were a giant corndog.”
The issue concludes with an essay by Ryka Aoki that compares the short form to discovery in archaeology, having to dig for the fragments that might mean something and putting together a bigger story from just a few pieces of bone. She makes a point of how it makes sense that queer narratives often include the short form, fragments, and found pieces. Unfortunately all of these exciting forms she talks about only helped punctuate my sense of disappointment with the writing that precedes it.
I expected a wider range. I was especially surprised since this is a queer-themed issue. In terms of voice, I really wanted to see the rainbow. It’s nice to have occasional whimsy to break up a collection, to lighten the mood and play around with expectations, but I finished this issue wanting to see more of the intimacy that it began with. More darkness and more vulnerability. Unlike the story that introduces this issue, this whimsy too often precedes what can be so powerful about the short form: what must be read between the lines and what is unsaid. As Aoki reminds us, a big story from small pieces. I left the issue wanting more of that.