Sunday, May 1, 2011

narrative in two sentences: alex epstein

I was happy to be invited to read at the Blue Metropolis Festival here in Montreal. The crowd laughed appreciatively at all the right moments (I love you!), nodded, and smiled. Balm to those of us who prefer to stay closeted in a room with a mug of tea and a laptop to having to speak coherently in front of a room full of people.
I read with Judy Fong Bates and Nigel H. Thomas, whose work I was already familiar with, and Alex Epstein from Israel. Alex read about a dozen very short pieces. One was only a sentence long.
The art of micro-fiction wows me. Myself, I can write two or three lines of good description or characterization, but I know very well they don't carry a narrative. And these pieces do. For example... Let me quote from the back of the business card Alex gave me and you'll see. Only two sentences but they contain a whole world of story.
"From time to time, even though all the batteries were supposed to have been sent to another warehouse, a short tune bursts from one of the phones in the used cell phone warehouse. The sleepy guard locates the defiant device and erases another love message that will go unclaimed."
I've read this many times and am still trying to decipher the magic. One element is obviously the humour. Or should I call it irony. The compulsive waste of human emotion. The sleepy, unsentimental guard who arbitrates love messages.
The difference between what Alex has written and what I wouldn't be able to stop myself from writing lies in the restraint. Alex tells a story by intimation. His two sentences allow the reader to imagine... how Ahmed wonders why Maha won't answer, though he's apologized and once upon a time she swore eternal fidelity. How Elizabetta checks her cell phone again and again in the classroom, where cell phones are strictly forbidden. And why is the guard sleepy? Did his lover keep him awake all night arguing? Or maybe fucking. What kind of man works as a guard in a used cell phone warehouse?
Alex's stories suggest infinite possibilities. Whereas I suppose my readers have to be willing to follow the path I set on the page.
Both styles of writing have their attraction. But I'm curious to see now if I can rein my appetite for back-story and write a couple of these very short, provocative pieces.


  1. Very interesting...I've been trying to pare down but never thought I could get that tight. Like a six-word story. But the restraint! And the possibility! Quite the art form.

  2. Jerry, The stories in his book "blue has no south" are a paragraph, sometimes even two pages long. He can get downright verbose at times.