Monday, April 5, 2010

Review Monday: Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America

Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America
Edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas and Ray Gonzalez
W.W. Norton
March 2010
ISBN: 039333645X
Review by Tara Laskowski

It is no surprise to readers of literature that short-shorts, or flash fiction, can pack as much punch in their brevity as the longest of novels. Sudden Fiction Latino is a collection of these short-shorts, featuring writers from the United States and Latin America. It includes more than 60 stories, all 1500 words or less, by established writers and newcomers.

Here you’ll find treats by authors who you may have only read in longer forms, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende and Junot Diaz, alongside up-and-coming authors such as Luna Calderon and Andrea Saenz.

Flash fiction has surged in popularity lately, with several well-established publications (many online) dedicated exclusively to the form — whether the 1,000-word limit story you’ll find at journals like Wigleaf, or “twitter-fiction” (140 characters or less) at places like Nanoism. In this collection, you find that same kind of diversity—everything from magical realism to a striking reality, traditional storytelling to abstract mystery.

In Dagoberto Gilb's "Shout," for example, we get a gritty glimpse into the life of a migrant worker and his struggle to support an ever-growing family: "She was struggling getting dinner together, the boys were loud and complaining about being hungry, and well into the fifth beer, as he sat near the bright color and ever-happy tingle of the TV set, his back stiffening up, he snapped." Another story, "Miss Clairol" by Helena Maria Viramontes, tackles the reality of a 10-year-old's world growing up with a single mom still on the prowl. "The only way Champ knows her mother's true hair color is by her roots which, like death, inevitably rise to the truth."

Both of those writers are based in the United States, but some of the stories from outside the States bring a playfulness of language and realism to them that stand out. Mexico's Socorro Venegas gives us "Johnny Depp," the story of a man without a shadow who believes he is a movie star. Of course, Gabriel Garcia Marquez doesn’t disappoint in “Light is Like Water,” where his mastery of magical realism comes alive in a wonderful bite-sized story about two boys who go sailing on a river of light in their apartment. And Argentinian writer Raul Brasca's micro-story "The Test" reads like a fairy tale. Here are the opening sentences: "'Only when it is cut down will you have my daughter,' the sorcerer said. The lumberjack looked at the tree's slender stem with a self-satisfied smile."

Some of the best stories deal with what happens when Latino culture clashes with white culture. In "The White Girl" by Luis Alberto Urrea, a graffiti artist comes across a banged-up car in which a girl died, finds her bracelet, and can't get her out of his head. There's also the really clever "Day Ah Dallas Mare Toes" by Luna Calderon, where a young girl tries to understand the way her teacher perceives her heritage and the way her own family deals with honesty and love. This last, in particular, has such a delightfully poignant voice it immediately draws you in and keeps on running, as in when the narrator says, "Miss Wilson said that we had to build an altar for a deceased relative because it's Dia de los Muertos next week. 'Cept she said, 'Day Ah Dallas Mare Toes.' Cici Ramirez and I cracked up, but not loud. We both pretend like we don't speak Spanish. But we do, and the way Miss Wilson said it was hecka stupid."

These stories, as a whole, create a rich, vibrant conversation with colorful characters that the reader may have never met before. The illegal immigrant. A homeless man on the street corner. A woman who never wears clothes. The gangster. The result is wonderful—a collection of writing that continues to surprise and has something for everyone.

Tara Laskowski was the 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence at the flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly, and is now a member of their editorial staff. She earned an MFA from George Mason University and works as a media relations manager and social media coordinator for the university. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications online and print. Her story "Ode to the Double-Crossed Lackey in 'Thunderball'" was nominated for Dzanc's Best of the Web 2010. She can be found online at

1 comment:

Daniel Olivas said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review. I moderated a panel on "Sudden Fiction Latino" at AWP in Denver last week, and the response was wonderful. Out of the over 60 contributors to the anthology, we had 6 (including myself) on the panel reading their stories and discussing sudden fiction. Many audience members remarked afterward that the stories were quite diverse and each one stood on its own for its own reasons. We think that readers will find this book to be a real treat.