In 2008, Flume Press released a limited edition chapbook by Randall Brown called Mad To Live. It sold out almost immediately. Through the last few years I had always heard about the collection but never had a chance to read it because copies were almost impossible to come by. But everyone I talked to who had read it said it was amazing.
Before working with Randall on the Hint Fiction anthology -- his story the brilliant "Therapy Dog" -- I had only known him through the many rejections that was sent my way from SmokeLong. I think I may have read some of his work online at various places, but never had a chance to read his work together as a whole because, again, his collection had sold out. Fortunately, PS Books (a division of Philadelphia Stories) has recently rereleased the collection as a deluxe edition with "bonus tracks."
The other week at the Hint Fiction reading at the KGB Bar, Randall kindly gave me a copy of the new edition and I finally had a chance to read it over the weekend. And I'll tell you, dear blog readers, those people I talked to before? They weren't lying about how amazing it is. I knew from the very first story that this collection was going to be a keeper. How couldn't you with an opening like the one from "Little Magpie":
I find Maggie squatting on the kitchen floor beside the door to the garage. My eyes always go to her belly first, as if she swallowed a globe. There've been two miscarriages, both early. Never have we gotten so far. Then I notice she's picking something off the floor, putting it in her mouth. Get closer. They surround her. Hundreds of them. Ants. Maggie is eating ants.
A lifetime of sitcoms has prepared me for cravings -- pickles, hamburgers. Running out in the middle of the night for a pint of Haagen Daz Vanilla Swiss Almond. Strawberry Frosted Pop Tarts. But insects?
Maggie looks up. She removes the finger from her mouth. "Must be the baby," she says. Her hand follows the curve of her belly. "She wants bugs."
With the "bonus tracks," the new deluxe edition includes 22 flash fiction pieces that demand to be read again and again. I'm not joking. I've read some really great story collections in the past, and they're collections that I recommend, but very few do I feel I'll actually read through again. I immediately had this feeling with Mad to Live. Each story is so expertly crafted, characters becoming fully realized in only a page or two. Having read this book, it's no wonder that Randall is so well known for writing flash fiction. Not to sound overly cheesy, but Randall Brown was born to write flash fiction. And flash fiction, if it knows what's good for it, should be thankful.
P.S. Randall is the founder of Matter Press, which has recently published some great flash fiction and will open to submissions in the not-so-distant future.