I’m normally not a fan of either flash fiction or its big brother, very short stories, but the collection Now That I’ve Lost You (Screaming Dreams, 2013; trade paperback), by Paul Edwards, has enough high points to make me re-think that viewpoint a bit.
There are 19 stories squeezed into 146 pages here (plus an Introduction and Story Notes), mostly reprinted from lesser-known small press magazines. Stories of such short duration, by their very nature, have zero to little room to develop characters, and yet Edwards for the most part does an admirable job of drawing characters who are distinctive, if not quite deep. For example, there’s the female protagonist of “Dead City Blues,” a survivor of the zombie apocalypse who becomes convinced that a slightly geeky guy from her school is somehow controlling the events. Or the paranoid, over-protective father in “Mine,” whose worldview proves to be far from trustworthy. Or the journal-keeping narrator of “A Place the Night Can’t Touch,” another apocalypse survivor, who’s managed to train one of the hungry horde, and doesn’t like the interruption to her little world when another survivor shows up unexpectedly. Or the conflicted couple at the heart of “Highways,” as expressed eloquently by one of the pair, “We’re at that stage where we’re too frightened to cement what we’ve got, and too frightened to break up.”
Other notable stories include the Lovecraftian “Cure,” in which a lonely man believes he may have found a magic potion to solve his solitude. In the haunting “Anja,” a love-stricken woman determined to get things “right” forces the object of her affections to relive the experiences over and over again. “The Art of Driving” stirs a couple’s experiences with sleepwalking, suspicion, an affair, and driving lessons all together into a somber stew.
The depressed, angst-ridden, and sometimes nihilistic characters that people Edwards’ tales sometimes threaten to become a bit too much, but more often than not, the stories win out. Now That I’ve Lost You is probably not for all tastes, but if brief bits of modern gothic are your cup of tea, there’s much to like here.