The first thing that I have to note is that my review of Paul Beckman’s flash fiction collection Kiss Kiss will be longer than most of the stories in his book! A master at the ultra-short form, Mr. Beckman can say as much with twenty words as most authors take a whole novel to reveal. While many of his stories are written in a literary style, most of them also contain comedic elements, with one or two chuckle-out-loud moments of humor.
There are some common themes that run throughout the tales. Very serious problems are at the heart of almost every story, and it’s interesting how Mr. Beckman can turn these situations on their head. Some of the darker themes include living in the projects, alcoholism, poverty, physical and mental abuse, prostitution, hunger, murder, sexual problems, infidelity, marital and relationship difficulties, bizarre families and neglected children.
These are hardly subjects that would make you laugh when written as a list like this, are they? But Mr. Beckman manages to find the humor in most situations, and give the reader a glimpse into his unique perspective. No subject is taboo in the stories, with everything from a penis that falls off but is still useful to its owner, peeping toms, facial ass hair, grandma’s sexual escapades, a woman with an arachnid fetish, incest, role reversals, a deadly ball of dental floss, and urine as a medical cure.
While each story is a standalone, there are a few reoccurring characters throughout the book. Two central characters are Mirsky and his wife Elaine, who seem to have more problems than a country song. Many of the stories are written in first-person point of view, and while most of the main characters are male, there are also a few forays into the woman’s perspective.
Despite a strong humorous element to many of the pieces, there are a number of more serious works included that give balance to the book as a whole. Some are written in an experimental or surreal style, some as vignettes, and some with the slow pacing and gravity of literary fiction. All are fascinating to read, and the variety and breadth of Mr. Beckman’s writing will allow readers of all backgrounds to find something to enjoy.
The stories I enjoyed the most, though, were the twisted ones. Not necessarily the twist endings, although there are a number of those, but the ones that illuminated some dark ethos of society and brought it to light. For example, Mr. Beckman’s “Discussion of My Night Patrol With the Guys from the Station While Having Drinks.”
I may have stopped the Corvette that night so I could check out the smiling blonde in the passenger’s seat with her hair whipping in the wind.
I may have cracked his tail light with my baton as I approached the driver’s side window.
“Do you know who I am?” he protested and I may have told him he was the guy driving with a broken taillight and was going to get a ticket and he best shut his pie hole and step out of the car. I may have quick frisked him and then I had the blonde step out and put her hands on the hood of the car.
I could tell she was used to having a man’s hands run over her body. She stood still and never complained, even when I felt her crotch and reached inside her thong and pulled out a baggie of white powder.
He threatened he’d have my badge while she promised me the world. I liked her option better so I may have cuffed him and thrown him in the back seat of my patrol car and had her follow me home in the Vette.
Mr. Beckman brilliantly highlights the dysfunctional nature of unchecked authority, bad relationships, drug abuse, sexual coercion and power abuse/powerlessness, among other themes. He makes the narrative comedic in the way the story is told, and also stark due to the ideas behind the characters’ actions. And he does so in under two hundred words.
Flash fiction has always been one of my favorite forms to write, and the difficulty in creating effective flash stories is that so much has to be left out to meet that word count goal. It’s what’s not said, more than what is. That can make it difficult to create a complete story arc at times, or to convey a mood or feeling strongly enough to keep a reader on the same page as the writer. After all, it’s a short ride from start to finish, and yet the author has to form the same connection with the reader as the author of a longer work.
Mr. Beckman is highly skilled at creating this depth of emotion in the reader, whether the emotion be light and comedic or dark and profound or sometimes both at once.
Often irreverent and sometimes heartbreaking, Kiss Kiss is an enthralling and entertaining read from start to finish. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Copyright © 2018 by Alison McBain