I expected that limiting the length of a short story to 420 characters — as counted by Facebook’s software, spaces and punctuation included — would come off as a gimmick rather than an artistic constraint, but this collection of a hundred and fiftyish micro-stories is pretty amazing, in several dimensions.
The first thing I noticed was the vividness of the prose. In the service of these stories Beach deploys striking metaphors and similes, crisp and believable dialogue, and rich and evocative adjectives and verbs. It frankly astounds me that this is his first published fiction.
WIthin the first few pages I was also struck by the formidable range of Beach’s stories. They’re all over the map, both literally, and in terms of tone, setting, even genre and theme.
It’s also impressive how complete many of the stories are. Some not only establish character, setting, mood, but also establish a narrative conflict or even suggest its resolution. A few beg for continuation, to be seen as an excerpt from a longer work — and at least a couple of them are explicitly connected — but most of them don’t. They’re self-contained little nuggets. One of them is almost like a distillation of Kafka’s The Trial and The Castle into, well, 420 characters.
I’m tempted to include a handful here, but I wouldn’t know where to start or stop. I almost want to retype the whole book, which would clearly exceed the boundary of fair use. And there’s a generous sampling at 420characters.com; if it’s not quite the set I would have curated, I think it’s fairly representative.
Lest I seem too gushy — I do think it’s far easier to make a great string of 420 characters than to make great strings of 420 characters that tie into a cohesive whole the size of a book, or even the size of a more typical short story. Last paragraphs are much harder to write than first paragraphs, and most of these stories are more like beginnings than like endings. Beach hasn’t proven to me that he can sustain the level of creativity he displays here throughout a work that’s judged by more conventional standards, less dependent on elision. But I really, really, want to see him try.
needs more demons? absolutely not.