Title: Fifty-Two Stitches
Author: Anthology, edited by Aaron Polson
Genre: Horror, Anthology, Flash Fiction
Publisher: Strange Publications
Publication Date: September 2009
Paperback: 162 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone anthology
How did I get this book: ARC from Publisher
Why did I read this book: When we were contacted by small horror & fantasy press Strange Publications with a review query, I was more than happy to accept. We’re more than happy to do our part to support small publishers, especially in the realm of horror and speculative fiction! When I read a bit about Fifty-Two Stitches and learned that it was entirely composed of flash fiction, I was willing to really try to push myself and work against my biases.
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
Quick, dark, and often filled with black humor, this book will keep readers awake at night with an array of horror flash fiction. Each story can be read in minutes, but will haunt for much longer.
Earlier today in my review of Malpractice, I revealed that I had a bit of a bias against “flash fiction.” These are extremely short stories, no more than 1000 words in length (at the maximum – word counts can be much lower, depending on the publication). But, dear readers, I have to admit how ridiculously unfounded my bias was – I hadn’t ever really given flash fiction a fair chance and was set against a style of writing I had never really read. With Fifty-Two Stitches, I had a chance to confront my silly biases. Each of these fifty-two stories are 500 words or shorter.
And wouldn’t you know it? I ended up loving many of the stories in this book.
Reading each “stitch” in this book, I came to a (in retrospect, a pretty “duh” moment) realization – writing flash fiction is HARD. I’ve read and reviewed my share of horror anthologies and first novels, and many authors tend to make the same mistakes: wasted, powerless adjectives, descriptions that are lengthy and try too hard at gruesome, for example. But in the flash fiction of Fifty-Two Stitches, there’s simply no space to make these mistakes. Each sentence, each word has to be selected for maximum effectiveness – and the result is all the better for it. As in all anthologies, Fifty-Two Stitches has some duds and unevenness, but there are also some memorable, truly awesome stories within as well. Some of these gems include “New Woman” by Doug Murano (in which a man used to taking charge on dates gets more than he can handle), “In the Garden” and “Mother’s Love” by L.R. Bonehill (both eerie, haunting stories about mothers dealing with loss), “Sitting Up With Grandpa” by Blu Gilliand (where a young boy sits vigil with his recently deceased Grandpa), and “Dead Weight” by Robert Smartwood (a story that gives a whole new meaning to coyotes and border crossing).
Of all the stories in the book though, I had six solid favorites that not only delivered as 500 word stories – they satisfied my reading appetite, provoked thought, and in some situations, made me yearn for more. “Bad Meat” by Natalie L. Sin focused on what happens to life on a farm when a zombie strain takes over not only humanity, but infects cows and poultry – and a young girl that misses meat so much decides to get some protein with an ironic twist. “Something In Common” by Joshua Scribner is beautifully executed – the story opens with a few people walking together, trying to figure out how they are similar. The reason why they are discussing something so odd is revealed gradually, expertly in the story – and when they finally discover exactly what it is that they share, it’s too late. Mr. Scribner’s story is not only imaginative, darkly funny, and expertly executed, but it’s also very visual. Really good stuff. In a change of pace, another favorite of mine was “Let Your Fingers do the Walking” by Rick McQuiston – which is just a funny, absurd story. A man and his wife flip through the phone book that was left on their doorstep, only to find some bizarre listings. I loved the introduction, I was hooked by the creative ad listings, and, best of all, the story finishes with a hilarious new character. “The Exquisite Beauty of Death” by Mercedes M. Yardley is a much more tragic, darkly romantic story that resonated long after I finished it. The visuals of Ms. Yardley’s writing were gorgeous – I loved the image of a woman whose eyes leaked blood. Also, different from any of the other pieces in this anthology, Ms. Yardley has a distinctive, poetic style of writing that I truly appreciated. “They” by Pat Moran is a good, old fashioned monster under the bed story. It feels a bit like Summer of Night by Dan Simmons or It by Stephen King (the same small town, young children facing an evil that no one else wants to acknowledge), and, though very simple, is very effective. Finally, in “The Homeless Situation” by Felicity Dowker, we see a future where human empathy is a disease, and the homeless litter the streets. Of all the stories in Fifty-Two Stitches, this was probably my favorite. I’m a sucker for dystopian stories, and “The Homeless Situation” puts a terrifying new spin on a dreary future.
In all, this was another fantastic anthology from some very talented authors. Though a few of these stories weren’t as neat or tight as others, Fifty-Two Stitches delivered. I highly recommend it to anyone – it certainly helped me realize just how amazing flash fiction can be.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read some of the short stories from this anthology online at the official book blog. Here’s one of my aforementioned favorites, from the site:
“Something in Common” by Joshua Scribner
“Did you ever go to Magic Springs Amusement Park?” asked Cho.
“Yes. I’ve been there a few times,” replied Walt.
“You know that ride, Dr. Dean’s Rocket Launcher?”
“That’s the one that lifts people straight up and then drops them.”
“That’s the one. You ever see the people at the start, when it suddenly jerks them up?”
Cho, who was a stranger to him a few hours ago, and now was the only person he had seen in a week, gulped and said, “That’s what the people looked like when the tentacles fell from the clouds and whipped them up.”
Walt got both pictures in his head. That was what the people looked like, except the horrors were different. On the ride, they had expected it.
Cho had said little after joining him, but now seemed to be warming up. She said, “I’ve had them right by me, a few different times. I’ve seen them bust through the roofs of cars to take people, but they don’t take me.”
They were zigzagging through overturned and wrecked cars on the road. The damage the tentacles could do was apparent.
“They took everyone else,” said Cho. “Why don’t they take us?”
There was a croak in her voice. Walt was long single. Communication wasn’t his forte, and now this woman was in crises and wanted to talk. All he could think to do was be empirical.
“What are the similarities between us?” he asked.
“How are you and I alike?”
She took nearly a minute to answer, but he was glad to hear she was no longer on the verge of crying. “You’re a middle aged white man. I’m a young Asian woman. You’re big, and I’m small. We’re not really alike at all.”
“True, and in the ways we are alike, being human, speaking English, we were also like all the people who got taken.”
They came to a steep slope in the road. Near the end of the slope, Cho said, “This reminds me of The Peak Trail. I’d just come off it when the tentacles came.”
Walt laughed, though it was hard with his lack of air. “I wish I would have hiked more; then I’d be in better shape for all this walking.”
Cho didn’t laugh. She seemed deep in thought. They were making their way around an overturned tour bus when she said, “What were you doing when they first came?”
“Mowing my lawn.”
She seemed deep in thought for a few seconds and then said, “You were mowing, and I was hiking, both outdoor activities”
Now Walt thought for a few seconds and then said, “But we couldn’t have been the only ones. There must have been hundreds doing both activities on a summer day.”
She sighed and then said, “Yeah. I guess.”
Just then, he felt a sting and slapped it. He withdrew his hand from the little mess of blood and insect parts.
Cho got into her backpack. She pulled out a little blue cylinder. “Here,” she said. “I got this repellant off the internet. It works wonders.”
Walt went to spray it on his exposed skin. It wouldn’t spray. “It’s out,” he said.
“Oh yeah. I don’t know why I didn’t toss it. I finished it last night.”
The tentacles were transparent and you could only see them briefly when the sunlight hit them just right. Right now, Walt could see the suction cups behind Cho.
The thought that came seemed to have arrived to mock him. He looked at the can he was holding. He laughed with exasperation and said, “I got this off the internet, too. Good stuff. I bet we were about the only ones to have this particular brand on that day.” He laughed again. “I ran out last night too.”
Cho stared at him with an inquisitive look for a few seconds. Then there was the stunned horror when she was lifted into the sky.
“Yours must have worn off too,” he said to the girl who was gone.
He wondered what his face would look like when he was going up. After all, he was expecting it.
Joshua Scribner is the author of the novels Mantis Nights, The Coma Lights and Nescata. He’s published over 100 stories. Up to date information on his work can be found at joshuascribner.com. Joshua currently lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.
Additional Thoughts: Check out the official book trailer below:
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Elegy Beach by Steven Boyett