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Flashes of Emotion
by Forrest Roth
Kim Chinquee, the featured visiting writer for the first of three COMMUNIQUE readings to be held at Big Orbit Gallery, spends most of her time on a deceptively challenging task: crafting very short stories that require investing only a minute (or less) to read yet longer to comprehend their significance. This creative undertaking, which has proven quite successful for Chinquee, was born out of a writer’s necessity to step away from convention. “I think truth comes in small bits,” Chinquee explained in a recent e-mail interview, “and this form allows me to find those truths without feeling too overwhelmed ... With the longer form, sometimes I feel exhausted with emotion.”
Not that this abbreviated work leaves a void to be filled. Crystalline in their efficiency, Chinquee’s very short stories defy the casual reading that their length would suggest, or perhaps even encourage. Each piece glimpses at seemingly innocuous events—a woman upset over high gas prices, the unintended result of a son dyeing his hair blue, a lonely teacher wearing an ugly sweater in class—become important for the reader while resisting heavy-handed profundity. The author’s narratives not only appear close to real life but feel close as well, even if some have a dream-like quality to them.
Chinquee started writing these tiny fictions as a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her first story of this kind, titled “The Schukers’ Fourth of July,” was initially published on-line at a student journal before appearing on the Pig Iron Malt website (www.pigironmalt.com). Since then, the author has written two novels and several short stories, though she finds very short stories to be a reprieve from longer ones. Readers have had no difficulty finding them: 130 of her stories have appeared in 57 different print and on-line journals including Conjunctions, the Denver Review, Noon, and Elimae. Many of these stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
The very short story form continues to be the subject of critical attention (at present, a large publishing house, Norton, is preparing its own Flash Fiction Forward anthology) and is pondered by readers unaccustomed to having a story finish before it really gets started. Since not much formal consensus exists as to exactly what determines “flash fiction,” “sudden fiction,” or “micro fiction” other than the lack of traditional narrative devices and a small word count, a growing number of writers have seized the opportunity to stake their own aesthetic territory. Chinquee describes the form as “A burst of emotion on the page, evoked by a sensory detail, whether it be sound, image, texture, taste,” and refers to it as “a snapshot, some type of photograph (and not necessarily visual).”
So what do readers value in these figurative snapshots when compared to the moving, breathing pictures contained in longer narratives? “In short narratives, readers focus on a few very specific images, sounds, or aspects and are left to figure out the rest,” Chinquee writes. “They might be told what the story involves, yet there are many things ‘left out,’ which the reader may have to find on his/her own. Whereas, in a more ornate narrative, they may be more guided. I believe that the reader has more responsibility in reading short narratives.”
Despite her tendency to let readers fend for themselves, the popularity of these very short stories can be directly attributed to Chinquee’s accessible style, which draws upon both the anecdotal and the purely fictional. “I might take some personal experience, like what it’s like to show a cow at the fair, and incorporate some weird dream image like snowflakes in July. That’s fun to me. I believe that’s how life works.”
with Kim Chinquee & Ed Taylor
Saturday, January 28, 7pm.
Big Orbit Gallery,
30d Essex Street, Buffalo.
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