Flash fiction. Like lightning, it’s a brief illumination, the sky of your mind brightened with an image that, at its best, lingers after you’ve turned the page. At its worst, flash fiction can be banal, confusing, or both. They Could No Longer Contain Themselves: A Collection of Five Flash Chapbooks (Rose Metal Press)contains more selections that crash and burn than you’d expect in a collection of best writings from Rose Metal Press’s Annual Short Short Chapbook contest.
Thankfully, the collection is redeemed by some finely crafted, detailed pieces, including the delightful musings in Sean Lovelace’s chapbook, “How Some People Like Their Eggs.” Lovelace writes with humor and originality, presenting readers with the world of Charlie Brown’s inner thoughts; how Andy Warhol, Robert Capa, Cher and Thelonious Monk, among others, prefer their eggs; and a nursing student with a mania for bocce.
Other notable writings include the wondrous and fantastic world of John Jodzio’s “Octane,” where a woman employed as a gas tester believes a warlock has cast a spell on her, compelling her to follow him wherever he goes. Sometimes, this world is mundane, but no less striking—Elizabeth J. Colen writing about lying children, naming girls Jennifer, young crushes, suburban neighborhood picnics, and random sexual encounters.
Tim Jones-Yelvington’s “Evan’s House and the Other Boys Who Live There” is the most complete chapbook thematically. Broken into twenty sequential flash fictions, it follows the loves and lusts, highs and lows of a young gay man named Evan. Told from several vantage points (the first story is from the perspective of Evan’s house, as drawn by Evan in third grade), Jones-Yelvington paints an abstract portrait of the emotional life of a child, and his subsequent maturing into young adulthood.
Even though these are short works, the enjoyment of this chapbook comes from Jones-Yelvington’s adept use of few words to call back youthful rejections, a lingering sense of difference, and weird obsessions—being slimed by a friend, the attraction of a purple thermos, and the allure of animal face-painting long after you “should” have grown out of that phase. It’s not that these are experiences unique to gay kids—it’s just that Jones-Yelvington portrays them with such tender emotion that readers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are taken back to personal encounters with betrayal, desire, joy, shame, regret, and brief moments of grace.
If you prefer a depiction of life that’s candy-coated, yet calorie-free, I’d avoid “Evan’s House and the Other Boys Who Live There.” It’s dense with the harsh realities of adult living. In one section, Evan’s boyfriend Patrick details his frustration and disappointment with his partner; Patrick is unable to control Evan’s drinking and his general self-destructive behavior.
“As I clutch his shoulder with one hand and dab the blood from his face with the other, I think maybe this is love. Maybe love is holding another person’s potential when they’re too weak to hold it themselves,” says Patrick, as he cleans Evan’s face from a bar incident Evan can’t remember. In the world of Tim Jones-Yelvington, this is love—a little desperate and codependent, but also wonderfully human.