I love when something grabs hold of me and won’t let go*. Having in my last post looked in depth at one of Margaret Atwood’s prose poems, I couldn’t help myself from looking more closely at some of her other short, short stories. At the local library I sat down and started going through ‘Murder in the dark’ by Atwood. It’s hard exactly to pinpoint what you would call her short, short fiction. Prose poetry? Vignette? Flash fiction? Some of it reads like memoir, but you can’t be entirely sure if she is just presenting facts that never happened for effect.
In The Victory Burlesk from Murder in the Dark, the narrator goes along once, or maybe twice (she can’t quite remember) to a strip tease, a particular daring thing for a woman and her friends to do. They laugh at the absurdity of the night, but the narrator thinks that the women are talented in the way they spin their tassels or undulated their stomachs, and she compares it to the performance of a plate spinner or some other act.
She is watching however, when a woman comes out in a black evening gown with her back to the audience, and the narrator realises that the woman is reasonably old and is about to take off her clothes. The narrator becomes horrified that the audience of men will jeer the woman, but then begins to wonder if the joke is, and wonders whether the woman on stage knows that it is coming.
When the woman drops her clothes, and the audience sees her aging body, they go dead quiet.
I would suggest Atwood’s vignettes are perfect for anyone trying to write so-called flash fiction (pieces under 500 words) they are not trite at all.
One common strategy people seem to apply with 500 words is to have the whole story build to some late minute twist at the end of it, which sticks out like a beacon on a black night. Atwood’s pieces aren’t like this.It’s tough to decipher exactly what the message is in her stories, but they are strongly written, with wonderful respect to the use and order of words. Atwood punches at some essential truths. Her voice comes across so powerfully, which is incredible, given the short amount of space she has. Oh, and did I mention they’re quick to read. Always a bonus in our time conscious society.
* The police, of course are excepted from this broad, general statement.