Flash fiction was not invented by Hemingway, but his classic six-word story, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” stands as a well-known example of compressed emotion. With a word count ranging from five to 1,500, Writer’s Digest further defines the genre as “not focusing on plot or character development, the writer instead focuses on the movement of the narrative.” Every sentence, every word, should reveal something to the reader that we didn’t know before. It should also hint at a larger story than what’s revealed on the page. Formally, this is an apt assessment of the 63 often innovative and original stories by local writer and Clarion University professor Damian Dressick, whose Fables of the Deconstruction arrives as a collection that hits the mark post- engaging modern.
In “Life Lesson”, readers are immersed in “1972 and the war, unpopular now even in the suburbs, continues. My father, who is not a Buddhist monk, nevertheless flirts with self-immolation. There has a comforting familiarity in the setting – a driveway, a Buick – until the father douses himself with a liter of gin, while “his left hand fiddles with the steering wheel of the Zippo”. goes out when the narrator’s mother “sprays it with the garden hose, calls my uncle in the house across the street, my father laughs. ‘I can do it anytime, Alice,’ he says. It’s a gripping scene that only requires 158 well-placed words.
Dressick, in an interview with SmokeLong Quarterly, analyzes his vision of the genre: “Shorts are in a way their own country. You don’t spend a lot of time with the reader so the responsibility shifts from keeping an audience to very quickly trying to deliver something that they can take with them, something that comes apart, makes them feel entangled in a place of substance. I’m also a sucker for stories that don’t shy away from sensational moments and those that ostensibly attempt to place their characters in the capital “H” story. Little Fables stories…will keep readers on their toes as Dressick moves from the allegorical (“The Food Speakers”) to the satirical (“Bruce Redman says ‘No, but maybe'”) to the personal (“In Order to Live”), sometimes setting up stories in the form of lists, pie charts or an annotated Word document. These latest innovations vary in success, perhaps leaving traditionalists wanting something less experimental.
While Dressick, a Windber native who also wrote the recent coalfield-centric novel, 40 Patchtown, showcases blue-collar sensibilities in “Jesus in 42,” he nails something more ephemeral, in “Possession “. Set against the backdrop of Bob Marley’s last concert, its setting becomes the answer to many Pittsburgh residents’ favorite question: September 23, 1980 at the Stanley Theater.
Here the narrator dreams of being part of the crowd, “the carpenters, the waitresses, the stockboys, the straight-haired lawyers – all standing and swinging pale hands in the air, beckoning in recall, their cheers cajoling the tall man sick back on the wide plank stage.The stage is familiar to onlookers, with lighters lit, the fabulous rendition of “Redemption Song” mourned, brilliantly described as “a pure connection…the warm hand of God descending from the sky cool and takes your heart in its incandescence, numinous palm. The pathos of the moment is palpable, but the ending is hard-hitting and existential. “Your inability to connect here is profound, inviolable. There is nothing you will bring back to the house, but a perplexity to the head and showbiz of the whole affair. This is it, you remember. This is the dream in which you are alone. And while readers in search of the closure that offers short fiction conv tional may feel on the outside, those wishing to embrace the literary carnival Fables of the Deconstruction embody will find it well worth the price of admission.