Review: Once: A selection of short short stories edited by Linda Martin & Laura Keenan, by Jess Gately

Title: Once: A selection of short short stories
Editors: Linda Martin & Laura Keenan
Publisher: Night Parrot Press

This review was first published in the Underground zine, issue 29: Romance

This debut book from Night Parrot Press launched onto the scene in mid-January at a highly attended shindig at Wolf Lane. The collection brings together thirty writers from around Western Australia in their amusing, thoughtful and necessarily brief fiction. As Linda and Laura write in the introduction, ‘Flash challenges the writer to create within a space that seems impossible.’ They are meant to create all the same emotions of a longer piece whilst simultaneously leaving you wondering ‘about their trajectory long after you have read them’.
The collection certainly delivers on that promise, its stories ranging from poignant to laugh-out-loud amusing. I found myself eager to share some of the thoughtful and witty stories with anyone who would listen—the great thing about flash fiction is that it doesn’t take long to read, but it can take a long time to talk about!
I immediately fell in love with Amy Budrikis’s Toothpaste after hearing her recite it at the launch. A humorous reflection on the way toothpaste is sold to us as a life-changing product, it also subtly reflects on the ridiculousness of modern beauty and the way our minds romanticise it. Like the impacts of having incredibly white teeth.
A number of stories investigated human behaviour and emotion in the form of animals. A Day at the Zoo by Martin Lindsay, Bob the Cockroach by Olivier Breton and Kangaroo by Linda Martin were three such stories, all rounded with strong closing lines that tipped the stories on their heads. Each sat somewhere between bemusement and disgust in their accounts of human behaviour.
Meanwhile, as the lovechild of short stories and poetry is wont to do, there was also plenty of investigation into love. Pillow Talk by Mabel Gibson perused the ways we grow to love one another while This by Sabien Wilde took Gibson’s story to the painful imagined end of growing apart.
For all of the seriousness in these pages however, there is pleasure and hope. Shannon Jade’s Countable Infinities encompassed all of this in one-and-a-half pages with young Jemma counting all the things that make up her life, before settling to count on hope. This particular story took my breath away and required a moment to sit and reflect.
There were so many delightful moments in this collection, far too many to mention here. The most satisfying part is reading a story and not really thinking much of it until you’re running errands, or working on something else, watching TV, and suddenly the story comes back to you. You see it in a new light. Just as satisfying is the moment you tie two seemingly separate stories together in any number of infinite combinations.
The cover is understated, just like flash fiction often is. The book size is smaller than usual, just like flash fiction is. And just like flash fiction, this book packs a punch. It does sit with you, long after you put it down, and the stories follow you long after you think you’ve finished thinking about them. A fabulous debut from WA’s newest publisher.

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