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.

Review of “Dead to Me” by Elle Nash, published in Adroit

The storyline in “Dead to Me” is based on a disgruntled married couple (husband/wife), and the story itself narrated from the POV of the wife. A host of issues linger in the foreground—depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, a couple brimming with insecurities, and the wife cyberstalking (or cyber-spying on) her ex. Oh, and a kid to punctuate the situation (“He cried every night, after dinner until bed.”). And let’s not forget about the narrator’s scarred relationship with her own mother (“Lately, [my mom] never asked how I was doing…”).

In the same way Carver could write about everyday people with deeply intimate nuance, so too does Nash, but I won’t fall into the trap of comparisons (though I recognize I just compared the two, but only for the sake of pointing out differences) because there’s much more here—in Elle Nash’s story— than a domestic tale written in the vein of the venerated short story writer. Afterall, you probably won’t find threesomes, anal beads, or social media obsession in a Carver story. But here, with the release of her debut story collection, NUDES (in which “Dead to Me” is included), Nash is—pardon the pun—carving out her own place in short story lore.

The story “Dead to Me,” ultimately, is about a wife running away, but what’s so impressive here is that Nash moves back and forth from current story to back story (though we mostly follow the former) and from storyline to storyline (husband, friends, kid, mother, ex) without losing a single note of tension, even in the most so-called mundane scenes. “…I found myself sitting at a dining room table where my son curled up in his chair, oatmeal smeared across his chin. I picked up a plastic spoon with soft edges.” Even the detail of “soft edges” harkens back to the very real threat of this narrator potentially doing harm to herself (“I felt suicidal”). As readers, when we find out the spoon has soft edges, we know the likelihood of harm finding her or the kid—at this particular moment—is present, but dulled knowing the spoon is “soft.”

But for as seemingly unhappy as the wife might be—her name is Lyla, a lovely name—it’s not because she doesn’t care. If anything, what Lyla is guilty of is caring too much. She wants to be a good parent, daughter, mother, friend, and she wants to stay alive. “So in our sadness we made a pact. To stay alive, to hang together, the way we vowed on our wedding day.”

And she wants, more than anything, connection; something or someone to steady her manic thoughts and ideas. “We texted back and forth a few times after the dinner party, but nothing came of it. The last time I’d texted her, I asked how she was doing, and she replied, “Good.” And that was it. She never sent another text.” Perhaps what Lyla needed here was a simple reply from the neighbor/friend, asking: “How are you?” Not the superficial kind of “How are you” that has become a meaningless greeting. But instead, a real question–“How are you?”–asked from a place of care and concern. You might remember, Lyla wanted this from her mother as well, to ask how she was doing.

I was glad to find Elle Nash’s work. Two of my favorite short story collections have been published by SF/LD Books—Dylan Nice’s and Mary Miller’s—and I plan now to order Nash’s. If the collection as a whole is anything like “Dead to Me” I’m in for one of those rare—and treasured—reading experiences.  

Read the story here. And check out her story collection here.


Elle Nash
 is the author of the short story collection Nudes and the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books), which was featured in O – The Oprah Magazine and hailed by Publishers Weekly as a ‘complex, impressive exploration of obsession and desire.’ Her short stories and essays appear in Guernica, The Nervous Breakdown, Literary Hub, The Fanzine, Volume 1 Brooklyn, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine and a fiction editor at both Hobart Pulp and Expat Literary Journal. She teaches a writing workshop called Textures. Find her on Twitter @saderotica.

Flash Friday Review: “Delusions of Grandeur” by Laura Todd Carns, published in CHEAP POP

A story about a precocious child, now an adult, with the ability to connect with living things in a unique way. Is it only our imagination that lessens as we grow older? A child will believe anything. Or rather, anything is possible to a child. The weight of the world hasn’t yet snuffed out their keen connections to the living world. “It seemed impossible, the more she grew and learned, that one small person could be any kind of bulwark against the careless cruelty of the world.” What a heartbreaking moment of realization. Or is it a tale of success? Even alone, she can do so much.

I’m not sure if what I’m writing here is as much a review or more so a reaction to Laura Todd Carns’s story “Illusions of Grandeur,” which is a meditation on the way we interact with the world—how we might make it better; how we might use our gifts to enhance other living creatures. But there’s an underlying sadness to it all—that we can’t save everything, everyone. And in some cases that means ourselves.

Perhaps the conditions that stretch our capacity for belief or believing (in something) more than anything is our… mortality? Or maybe just our current situation. I don’t know. Look death in the eye and, for a person who wants to live, they’ll believe almost anything. We need only point to religion to prove death’s power over us and what we might believe, however preposterous it might be. Still, there’s a connection here that takes place—a story about a person who still believes that belief itself is a worthy notion. “But she thinks, perhaps, that she can believe, for one moment, in her own grubby-kneed girlness.” It’s like the more philosophical version of Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” In this case, “If you believe, then…”

Or maybe not. Maybe belief is simply the final goodbye.

Read Laura Todd Carns’s thought-provoking and heart-wrenching story here.

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.