Review of “Good Teeth” by Leslie Walker Trahan, published in New Delta Revew

Good Teeth” was the 2020 winner of the Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Flash Fiction. After reading the piece, you’ll understand why. My brief review here:

This story is tied together by braided storylines with a compelling sense of time and excellent use of white space. The braids include: A creepy dentist/landlord. The narrator’s obsession with a stranger – a man – who may or may not exist. And the narrator’s deceased father. The two men — the stranger and the father — look alike and share a love of the violin. We see wonderful images and details that lend credibility to this: callouses on fingers, the “sleek neck of the violin case.” Meanwhile, the dentist gives a “months free rent” to the narrator if she goes out on a date with him. He also gives her free exams—sticks his fingers in her mouth and talks while the narrator “…[doesn’t] say a word.”

Throughout this very peculiar piece, the observations coupled with the braided storylines are enough to signal the alarm, but then we find out more of the narrator’s frame of mind through conversations between the narrator and her sister who asks: “Have you been taking your meds?” We hear that question a couple times, once near the beginning, and once at the end, and by the second time, we too wonder how much help this narrator might need. We readers aren’t exactly sure. But we do know one thing: we won’t call the dentist to come help.

Read and listen to the perfectly crafted and detailed story here.

Leslie Walker Trahan’s stories have been featured in The Forge and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other publications. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can find her on Twitter @lesliewtrahan.

Flash Friday Review: “The Little Details” by Jody Keene, published in JMWW

A familiar story: a wife endures the daily grind—kids who don’t clean up, a husband too forgetful (and maybe unmotivated) to change the kitty litter, and a host of other things that add up. But “he’s a good man, your husband;” the narrator says, attempting, perhaps, to convince herself. There’s a sadness in this piece made more so by the two coyotes shot and killed by the husband (opening line: “Your husband is in the garage with two dead coyotes.”). One of them, pregnant, with “stones in her belly now rather than pups.” This—a revenge killing for the two coyotes allegedly killing Juno, the family’s dog (“…pieces of her all along the creek bank. The steam from her innards drifted over the water, away from you.”). All of this intermixed with memories tied to motherhood, as the narrator recalls breastfeeding, her children at her chest—how fleeting, abrupt, a life can be. Narrated in the second person, the story takes us through a circumstance not unfamiliar to most who endure the daily grind where the saving thought or hope, on a particular day, is how the stylist might cut one’s hair; when the one strong emotion emerges from being “determined not to let the stylist talk you into bangs this time.”

Check out the story here.

Jody Keene is a writer and social media coordinator living in Little Rock with her family and as many dogs as possible at any given time. Her work has previously appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.

Flash Friday Review: “And This Is How It Ended” by Yasmina Din Madden, published in Fractured Lit

If Shannon Ravenel is correct and a good story’s ending will kiss the story’s beginning, then the end of this flash piece, by Yasmina Din Madden, told in reverse, would most certainly be a chilly goodbye peck on the cheek.

But kissing and story structure aside, there’s so much to admire in what Madden can do in so few words. We don’t need the blow-by-blow details, but one line will do it: “I surprised David with small gifts while I cheated on him with a fellow teacher…” That’s the one and only time we hear of it, but why go any further? There’s no need when economy (of words) is a prized possession.

Weed killer is apparently another prized possession. I’ve always thought weeds are simply misunderstood flowers or uncommercialized edibles, i.e. the gorgeous dandelion, but there are weeds of the noxious variety that do “choke out other plants.” These are the weeds that need attention pronto otherwise they might rot an entirely good garden plot full of lush, nutrient soil that could grow the tastiest of tomatoes. I, like Madden, live in Iowa, and there’s nothing quite like an Iowa grown tomato—something about the rich soil coupled with the intense July heat and humidity. I couldn’t choose a more favored and flavorful fruit to occupy any garden space, however big or small, in the Hawkeye State. Hell, we need at least one thing to brag about (we’ll see about the basketball team this weekend – let’s hope they don’t pull an Iowa State last time they played a #15 seed).

As we move forward (or is it backward?) in the story, we see the couple in question (David and the narrator) initially meet in a garden. This happens over a year prior to the first paragraph of the story. The couple shares time and space and eventually their relationship blossoms. But we quickly learn that what’s true of the tomato—that regardless of how “misshapen,” they’ll maintain flavor and “juiciness” and a resistance to “pests and disease”—unfortunately cannot be said for the most noxious of weeds; that a dandelion might live and flower and die back within a week, but the most invasive, as David well knows, needs to be cast out at the first hint of existence. Otherwise, inevitable ruin. David says it to the narrator in simple terms: “…a weed is a weed.”

Check out Yasmina’s story here.

Yasmina Din Madden is a Vietnamese American writer who lives in Iowa. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The Idaho ReviewPANKNecessary FictionCleaverHobartCarve, and other journals. Her stories have been finalists for The Iowa Review Award in Fiction and The Masters Review Anthology: 10 Best Stories by Emerging Authors. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions and Pulp Lit’s Hummingbird Flash Prize.

Flash Friday Review: “All the Wrong Questions” by DJ Hills, published in Wigleaf

A story about someone who is trying to keep hold of a fraying rope as she dangles off the side of a building/bridge/cliff. Or more directly, “I do not feel at peace.” This short, declarative—and very effective—line guides this flash piece from beginning to end. “I wanted so desperately to be popular.”

What is it like for someone’s life to spiral out of control or get launched—maybe literally, maybe figuratively—off a cliff. The fraying rope pales to the bus (with kids) which she acknowledges in the first paragraph: “Why did I drive the bus off the cliff?” Again, with kids in it (she did have an “abortion…in the early years of… marriage” which would support the metaphorical bus flying off the cliff, with kids). The bus was pulled out of the ocean. The narrator is now falling in love with the man who saved her.

Does it matter if any of it actually happened? No. Because we know what’s real: a failing relationship, loss at every turn, unmet needs/desires, and a general sense of unhappiness, despite a moderate effort: “I threw house party after house party trying to make friends. Where are they now?” Remember, she wanted to be popular?

When the narrator refers to being “dead” is it dead-dead? Or is it dead-to-the-world dead? I’m going to choose the latter here, because the one glimmer of any hope in this very powerful piece is when asked by the kids if it’s worth wishing on stars, even while dead, the narrator says, “Yes. Always. Let’s wish on one right now.”

Check out the story here.

DJ Hills is a queer writer and theater artist from the Appalachian Mountains, currently living in Baltimore. They have work in or coming from Appalachian Review, Cold Mountain Review, SmokeLong Quarterly and others.

Flash Friday Review: “Symbology” by Betsy M. Narvaez, published in The Brooklyn Rail

Many years ago in a short story workshop, one of the teachers, while discussing dreams in stories, said something to the effect of: “Share a dream, lose a reader.” Meaning, dreams, like in real life, are never as interesting to anyone else other than the dreamer herself. No one gives a shit about your extended slumber-time adventures with your third-grade pen pal on a balance beam overlooking some strange and muddy river.

But take a look at “Symbology” by Betsy M. Narvaez which opens with the line: “My mother began sharing her nightmares with me the same year I unfurled and grew taller than anyone had anticipated…”

So maybe nightmares are more compelling than dreams. Maybe when the nightmares and dreams are connected to the transition between childhood and adulthood, the meaning is more pronounced, more urgent. I’d say Betsy M. Narvaez proves that dreams/nightmares are indeed compelling, and I would argue further that her use of these dream/nightmares proves to hold deft insights into the characters of the story.

“Symbology” is a flash fiction piece where each stanza or section acts as a stepping stone toward the final realization which brings one of the mother’s nightmares (almost) to realization. The nightmare involves a hospital, her death. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to announce that the mother doesn’t die. That would be too spot on and meaningless to the story. Instead, what we get are these tender moments that unfurl. The narrator, after what she’s heard about the nature and importance of dreams, by the end of this story, wants to share with her mother something “that might convince her that dreams hold messages richer than warnings.” That life is more about life and less about death. And since the certainty of that notion should render us free in some way (yes, we all die), we need not preoccupy ourselves with something so predictable, but instead bask in the gorgeous unpredictability of being alive.

Check out Betsy M. Narvaez’s story here.

Betsy M. Narváez is an Ecuadorian-American writer and translator. A native New Yorker, she was born and raised in the Bronx and now resides in Washington Heights. She earned an MFA from Rutgers Newark and a B.A. in English and American studies from Wesleyan University.