From the very first of the 46 flashes in this debut collection, I raised an eyebrow and sat up a little bit straighter. The title of the first is Introductions and so for a brief moment or two I was convinced I was reading an intro to the author – that maybe this was an account of how or why the project started. Amazing proof that a title can already evoke a response, or influence the way we prepare to see and understand things. I quickly realised that this was the first flash, and now I see how Prinzi deliberately, and very cleverly, drew me into the first of these diverse and often skewed ‘flashes of perception’.
The tale is a salacious one; bold, daring, in your face – like the whole collection. Our protagonist, Craig, is telling us about discovering an old lover, Stan, in his house kissing his sister. The writing oozes tension and suspense. Stan is brazen, even cruel, in the way that he makes sure that Craig sees the kiss:
Their lips move, he slips his tongue into her mouth, he doesn’t break eye contact with me the whole time.
Craig remembers the feel of this man very well. He’s familiar with his touch, so when his sister introduces him as her new boyfriend the handshake brings back passionate memories. And the questions hangs…. Why is he there?
As an introduction to this collection, it is a stroke of genius on Prinzi’s part. Immediately he has me. He’s hooked me. He has used sex, obsessive love, lies and betrayal, memories of passion, breathless uncertainty of what is to come – and he has thrown it all into a huge pot and beckoned me to come and stir it, taste what’s inside.
Inside is a wonderful album of snapshots; some wide and panoramic like a family gathering, and some close-up and intimate like a snap taken as a study for painting of a lover. Each one with its own secret to be revealed in different ways. I can only pick out a few of the pieces for the review here, and so will choose the ones that affected me the most and that will stay with me the longest. This is in no way an exhaustive list of the stories here that moved me for one reason or another; it’s simply a matter of column inches!
‘Panophobia’ is about a man dealing with crippling fear. It is written from inside the chaotic mind of Duncan, who rambles his way through life imagining all kinds of horrors; fears for his health, the anticipation of death and serious maiming (however improbable) and a myriad other things:
That woman has a GUN in her bag. Leave the shop now but should I leave or will SHE leave? Will she follow me? She’s going to KILL me the electronic doors are going to fail I’m going to be trapped inside and it’ll hurt or maybe they’re sharper than they look and they’ll SLICE me up, diced human.
Omitting punctuation and stringing Duncan’s thoughts together like barbed wire, Prinzi deftly conveys the madness and paranoia in his head.
‘Four in the Morning’ is a beautiful account of what happens when – in the stillness of early morning – a man who is experiencing an important life change comes to face to face with a stag at rest in the middle of the road.
The very best flash is that which can drop in a mere handful of words and with them cause a story to explode in your mind like a firework. A seventeen word sentence in this flash tells us so much about this character. All of it, we make up ourselves, but we know him. We know how he is feeling, and that he is making a difficult journey which he has found it necessary to make in the dead of night. Coming across the majesty of the stag brings his unrest a temporary peace.
‘On Display’ – I love this one! I like stories that shove the emotion right in your face, leave no doubts. Openness in writing – clarity and unambiguity – is something I admire and prefer. Sure, symbolism is great, mystery is wonderful and challenging, but I love to read something where the honesty, the gut-wrenching frankness, shines through.
Here we have a young man – Shane – infatuated with the assistant in the clothes shop he frequents. Shane invests a lot of time trying on and choosing clothes, just to be near him. However, when it’s time to talk to the assistant at the till, Shane is socially awkward and feels inadequate:
I want to touch your black stubble, but the third nipple growing on the right side of my forehead reminds me that no matter how much anti-spot face wash I use, you’d never look twice at someone like me.
As their exchange unfolds, Shane fantasises that they are somewhere else, a relaxed and intimate world totally at odds with this awkward claustrophobia and paralysis. We have all been here, and Prinzi describes perfectly the fear, the embarrassment, the hopelessness of “from afar” love that we have all experienced… the way we say nothing when we want to say everything:
“Anything else I can do for you, Shane?”
Your number your lips your number your kiss your number your time your number your number your number.
‘Halfway’ to Fifty amuses and shocks me at the same time. It’s funny because the very notion of thinking you are old when you are half way to fifty (when one is already past that mark!) is something you shake your head and laugh at. The angst of youth (‘Three months and I’ll be a quarter of a century old’), and all the things they now consider normal in this modern age (Facebook and Netflix) bring a wry smile.
But again, Prinzi delivers a sucker punch. This world might seem trivial and pathetic and shallow, but there is a depth to it. There is a darkness lurking. For now, Netflix will keep it at bay, but that may not always be the case.
Other flashes that stood out for me were: ‘Crumbs’, about never ending love and devotion; ‘Faith’, which deals with an issue I often marvel at… blind faith and trust; ‘Positive’, a perfect, compact, beautiful jewel; ‘No Room for Words’, the end of something…
Since Prinzi is, himself, only “Halfway to Fifty”, this collection of flashes is a pleasant surprise in that they display a maturity and experience beyond those years. Not slushy or overly sentimental, but nonetheless exhibiting compassion for the human spirit and sympathy for emotion. Many deal with love – either lost or longed for, unrequited or spiteful. All deal with relationships that are complicated (either with oneself or with others), and look at all sides of the multi-faceted melting pot that is life. And each one holds a surprise, a twist on what you believe to be true.
I would recommend this collection to anyone who wishes to see how great flash fiction is put together, how a writer can use words instead of paint to form a work of art.
Santino Prinzi has had a short story published with TSS which you can read here, as well as an interview which was conducted earlier in the year and can be read here.
Please note, TSS receives no financial benefit from linking to collections and anthologies. We do it simply to support writers and publishers.
Debbi Voisey was published in The Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2015. In the 90s she edited and wrote articles for a popular U2 fanzine and her most exciting achievement from those heady days was a 40 minute telephone interview with her hero Bono! She enjoyed the journalistic side of the magazine but her heart lies in fiction. She, lives in Stoke on Trent with her husband of 26 years, and is currently working hard to get her novel finished while she juggles a job with DHL in Communications. She can be found twittering @DublinWriter and on Facebook at ‘My Way by Moonlight’