What Can You Do in Twenty-Five Words?

Ian Crouch in The New Yorker:

Hintfiction-thumb-233x324-54309 A hinting story, Swartwood explains, should do in twenty-five words what it could do in twenty-five hundred, that is, it “should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.” And, like all good fiction, it should tell a story while gesturing toward all the unknowable spaces outside the text.

The book is divided into three sections: “life & death,” “love & hate,” and “this & that.” Several stories too fully embrace the gimmick, becoming tiny O. Henry tales complete with tidy setups and kickers. Something about the space constraints make the stories go for too much, rejecting intimacy for some trumped up idea of scale. The best, however, share an off-beat and generally macabre sensibility. Here are two good examples:

“Blind Date,” by Max Barry.

She walks in and heads turn. I’m stunned. This is my setup? She looks sixteen. Course, it’s hard to tell, through the scope.

“Houston, We Have a Problem,” by J. Matthew Zoss.

I’m sorry, but there’s not enough air in here for everyone. I’ll tell them you were a hero.

Violence is a lingering theme, often conveyed with a power that lasts long after the short time it takes to read these tales. Take “Cull,” By L. R. Bonehill, a compressed post-apocalyptic snapshot:

There had been rumors from the North for months. None of us believed it, until one night we started to kill our children too.

More here.

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