By Francine Witte
When you pick up Kiss Kiss, Paul Beckman’s just-released collection of flash fiction stories, get comfortable. Sit down in your easy chair, maybe bring a cup of joe, because once you start reading, you aren’t going anywhere.
These tiny stories, (I believe the number is 78,) are so sharp and so entertaining you will find yourself saying “one more, just one more.”
That’s because of just how readable they are. Beckman’s style is straightforward. Perhaps it’s his background as an air traffic controller that comes into play here. His stories are carefully guided and very easy to follow and then wham! he hits you with an ending that seems both surprising and inevitable all at the same time. The perfect landing.
Beckman’s world is full of odd things made entirely plausible — a picnic in Italy where only the dead are on the guest list, a dentist with his eyebrows tattooed on, a grandmother’s diary revealing her risqué past. There are brief encounters like that in “Helen and Ellen” where a twin sister passes by her dead sibling’s stalker on an airport conveyor belt. One tiny moment, exploding.
This is what flash fiction does, it takes a few well-chosen words, surgical details, and blends them into a beautiful synergy. And while Beckman’s language is straight-talking and no- nonsense, 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.”
The stories vary in length, the longer being 3 pages and the shortest being one tiny paragraph. Here is an example of what Beckman can do in four lines:
The Blame Game
In a mere 49 words (and that includes the title) we are given place, character, situation, conflict and backstory with the author mentioning none of these specifically. This is what separates flash fiction from merely an anecdote. And Beckman shows his mastery of the form in little gem stories such as this one throughout the book.
There are also more fully-drawn, recurring characters such as the aforementioned grandmother, or the man who is a product of the housing projects, and, my favorite, the Woody-Allen-esque Mirsky, who has trouble making small talk at parties. In “Wallflower Solution,” 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.