The stories in Tender Cuts by Jayne Martin betray the title. These stories knife and twist. They turn and pirouette on knife blades, the final lines almost always impaling the main characters, and the reader right along with them. While there’s nothing tender here, there’s much to admire.
Flash fiction always makes me think of lightning. So, if extending the metaphor, the best flash pieces burst from word one with a dizzying brightness. And, however, long the light remains, the flash must bookend with thunder, a rumble that punches through the final line to stick between your ribs. I often find flash fiction to consist of mostly brightness, no thunder. Thankfully, Martin corrects that by ensuring every last one of her stories culminates with a bang.
Tender Cuts is not happy reading. Not an armchair book that welcomes tea and a quiet evening. But if you dare for something biting, something that imbibes the cruel passion of being stranded amidst antediluvian storm, what you will find are stories that leap off the page through a series of uncontainable final lines whose payoff is that of a macabre punch line.
Martin does not leave room for escapes. But this is not pointless writing. Nor is it empty. Martin reminds me that truth often carries death, decay, and haunt.
Martin is a difficult writer to quote because of her brevity and knack for leaving the reader with eviscerating closing sentences. Quoting a conclusion of one of her stories gives away the build and premise. It ruins the joke. They deserve firsthand experience.
While it requires bravery, Tender Cuts is a rewarding read. Martin returns a missing freshness to flash fiction, recalling why the genre exists: for an instantly thrilling adventure in reading. Each one of her creations is a story in its own right with a beginning, middle, end. I find this worth mentioning because, as much as I enjoy experimentation in flash fiction, something definitively satisfying remains about utilization of this tried-and-true narrative structure.
And to accomplish an effective story arc with consistency across an entire collection of flashes whose average length is less than a single page is not just noteworthy. It feels unprecedented.
Tender Cuts is published by Vine Leaves Press.