Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday 4 May 2019

"Kiss kiss" by Paul Beckman (Truth Serum Press, 2019)

About 80 Flash pieces from Spelk, Pure Slush, JMWW, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Fictive Dream, (b)OINK, plus about 40 other magazines! I've been in about 7 of them. There's quite a variety of lengths - half an e-page to 4 pages.

Flash collections are still rather rare. Perhaps we don't know yet where to set the bar on quality. There are more misses than hits in this book. Some pieces have punchlines and little else. Many leave me unsatisfied, fizzling out or having token punchlines, as if the writer had been told "Stop. Time to put your pen down". Are there pieces that will convince the doubters (both story writers and poets) that Flash is worth reading? Certainly not "Cars, Trains and Smoke Rings", "Semantics", "Floaters", "Changing of the Guard", "Dear Editor", "Epilogue", or "Speaking of My Father".

It begins well, with "With a Wink and a Nod", a story that a few reviewers single out. "I've Had My Fill" is about 100 words long, with a decent punch-line. "Introducing Bennie the Magnificent", about the same length, ends much more weakly. "The Woman with the Juicy Fruit Breath" works pretty well, as does "Wallflower Solution". "Spice of Life" is ok. "Trade" is suitably enigmatic, given the length. The end of "Cinders" is too predictable though. "Dean's Dilemma" ends with "patients not in on the down low." I don't know what that means - perhaps some word-play on "low-down, where "down" can mean "hair"? Maybe it works better with Americans. "Tassels & Brown Legs" has non-standard syntax. "Birthday Beer" makes a change. "Cool Water" has 2 voices - interesting. So is "Too Many Uncles". "Five Minutes Can Make a Difference" has sufficient detail and incident to make it succeed.

It feels more like a collected than a selected set of pieces - "Destination Wedding" and "Betty's Live Chat Help Line" use too similar a trick.

Typos - "I starred at" (Columbia Market Delivers).

Other reviews

  • Alison McBain (There are some common themes that run throughout the tales. Very serious problems are at the heart of almost every story, and it's interesting how Beckman can turn these situations on their head. Some of the darker themes include living in the projects, alcoholism, poverty, physical and mental abuse, prostitution, hunger, murder, sexual problems, infidelity, marital and relationship difficulties, bizarre families and neglected children. ... While each story is a standalone, there are a few reoccurring characters throughout the book. Two central characters are Mirsky and his wife Elaine, who seem to have more problems than a country song. Many of the stories are written in first-person point of view, and while most of the main characters are male, there are also a few forays into the woman's perspective. ... Despite a strong humorous element to many of the pieces, there are a number of more serious works included that give balance to the book as a whole. Some are written in an experimental or surreal style, some as vignettes, and some with the slow pacing and gravity of literary fiction. All are fascinating to read ... The stories I enjoyed the most, though, were the twisted ones. Not necessarily the twist endings, although there are a number of those, but the ones that illuminated some dark ethos of society and brought it to light. For example, Beckman's "Discussion of My Night Patrol With the Guys from the Station While Having Drinks.")
  • Brad Rose (Beckman is often at his finest when he is at his briefest. In the 120-word story, “Commuter,” we learn of a woman whose loneliness compels her to eschew the advice of her psychiatrist ... Not all of the stories in Kiss Kiss work with same degree of panache. The hundred-or-so word story “Creep” felt to me that it needed one or two additional lines of development so that the reader might more clearly understand why the first person narrator is indeed a creep. Similarly, in “Sis” a story about a mother’s dislike for her daughter, the narrator doesn’t deliver the usually strong and amusing ending that I have come to expect from the author.)
  • Thaddeus Rutkowski (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” ... is an “experimental” fiction that works.)
  • DS Levy (The pitch-perfect story openings in this collection grab you by the lapels)
  • Francine Witte (he evokes some very touching emotion. His stories about a childhood in the projects come to mind here. Most notable in this category are “The Only Hope of the Jews” and “Father Panik Village.” ... Mirsky’s wife worries about how he currently handles chit chat in social situations, warning him “there are other things besides weather and cleavage, you know?” (Probably my single favorite line in the entire book.) She goes on to make him a crib sheet which becomes wildly successful, but not for the reason she thinks.)

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