KISS KISS: Very Short Stories – review

KISS KISS: Very Short Stories

by Paul Beckman
Truth Serum Press, Adelaide, Australia
Review by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Paul Beckman’s new collection of flash fiction, Kiss Kiss, is characterized by multiple uses of imaginative situations, surreal imagery, and ironic endings.

Paul Beckman Kiss Kiss book cover

Consider the first flash story in the book, “With a Wink and a Nod.” The speaker discovers his pinky toe is missing, but finds it where it has fallen: in his sock. “A pinky toe’s nothing to throw away,” he tells us, “so I put it … in the small canister from our unused canister set.” It doesn’t make sense that one’s toe would fall off without warning, but if we accept the premise, it does make sense to save the detached body part. As the story progresses, more parts of the speaker’s body fall away, unbidden, until, at the end, the speaker shakes his head. He doesn’t have to say which part falls off next. It’s quite ironic that the speaker literally loses his head, because what else could possibly happen when we are “falling apart”? In this way, the piece is surprising, humorous, and somehow true.

While most of the stories in Kiss Kiss follow the same basic format as the first story, a couple depart from the pattern in terms of their style and tone.

“Tassels & Brown Legs” stays close to a boxer as he climbs into a ring and trades punches with an opponent. The language consists mainly of movement signals and the sounds of boxing gloves meeting flesh: “pop pop pop skip skip dodge weave jab jab hook hook clinch hook hook cross cross skip skip back back back corner pop pop body body clinch clinch head butt … shakes head.” Through this third-person narration, we get a clear idea of what’s going through the boxer’s mind, and the speed with which things happen in the boxing ring. The result is an “experimental” fiction that works.

On the other hand, the story “Pray and Confess or Else,” is logical and vivid—and not funny at all. The beginning takes off from the ending, and the middle tracks a murderous family fight around a dinner table. The father, a tyrant and brute, demands that the members of his family confess their “sins” before they eat. Otherwise, he throws their food on the floor. When his wife criticizes him, an ice pick comes out (the wife pulls out the weapon). The ice pick is jabbed into the table, and the story ends with the son following his father’s command to “get in the truck.” In this manner, the ending circles back to the beginning, which shows the father shoving the kid out of the truck at school. It isn’t clear if the father drives away and never returns, though the story is told in flashback, and that may be a clue that this rupture won’t heal.

Overall, the flash pieces in this collection are tightly written and almost always surprising. Beckman, author of two earlier collections, a novella and a chapbook, shows how much he can say in a relatively few words, and we quickly see that he can say a lot.

–Thaddeus Rutkowski