Tyler Barton’s stories don’t waste time. They bite, they punch, they cavort screaming across the pages. In The Quiet Part Loud, his newest flash fiction chapbook, he has created a series of haunting portraits where characters on the verge of adulthood or maturation face off against physical and psychological turmoil. These aren’t horror stories, but it’s hard to read them and not come away shattered by what the narrators face in them.
The collection begins with “Stay, Go”, which opens by saying, “In Jersey, we did neither,” before devolving into a zany pseudo-kidnapping Stockholm Syndrome tale where the characters play a game of faux-politeness on an elevator and get into numerous hijinks. It’s a rip-roaring intro whose blistering pace doesn’t let up across the next fifty breathless pages.
The second story, “Hiccups Forever”, is barely more than a page as a student obsessively watches a film of her house exploding due to a gas leak before ending with a gut-punch line talking about her experience in watching the video clip backward, seeing her disintegrated house put itself back together: “like a party when everyone finally shows up, before anybody starts to leave.”
Later, in “Glue”, Barton spins a flash gothic about the effect of death on a small town, featuring the visceral line, “if it weren’t for the headstone, you wouldn’t know anyone had ever been there at all.”
The tone and cadence of these stories may have become pedantic if stretched thinner across more pages. But not a single story overstays its welcome, such is Barton’s control over his narrative. Each narrator visits for the appropriate amount of time, each narrative arc perfectly balanced on an emotional tightrope that stretches through each tale.
Beauty Before Darkness
The resounding darkness of these pieces never overtakes the beauty Barton is able to wring from his haunted protagonists and their troubled inner selves. As partial panacea to the overarching haunt of it all, the concluding story “Out, Out” ends with a kind of hope, an entreaty to connect. Yet its positioning following the protagonist’s engagement in yoga, specifically the corpse pose, at a drug rehab center doesn’t let you escape the quicksand each of Barton’s protagonists seem mired in, because the protagonist is only watching a passing element of encouraged hope that could easily be construed as dark humor.
Ultimately, despite the brevity, the voice and danger at the core of each flash reminds me where exactly this type of fiction got its namesake: lightning. While these pieces may be brief, they leave an indelible impression on the eyes.
Good storytellers compel memory to take shape around a reading experience. In The Quite Part Loud, Barton has created a little world of flash fiction that will be hard for me to shake. Just like streak lightning amid a terrible storm, I will see these stories when I close my eyes. I will recall the human struggle at the center of each piece. And though I may shudder at the specific type of madness he has unearthed so jarringly in these pages, I will return to marvel at what this collection accomplishes.
The Quiet Part Loud is published by Split Lip Press.