Though awfully brief, the hundred-plus fictions in this collection all have be considered tall, as in “tall tales.” All of them stretch plausibility till it snaps, sketching quandaries of a surreal bumptiousness far beyond what we read in most flash fiction. The short-short form tends towards quieter epiphanies, the hurts and discoveries of the ordinary, but David Atkinson is having none of that. In one story a bizarre super-creature, more or less immortal, “replaced the bricks of the Pyramids with high-impact thermal rubber Monte Cristo sandwiches,” and in another, “Lance Armstrong was kidnapping people for his socialistic SlimFast direct mail marketing railroad pyramid scheme.”
The effect packs a lot of pop, Chock full o’Nuts to choose a fitting brand name — made in America. That is, even the wildest premise here has some quality of the red, white, and blue run-of-the-mill: “Pretty much everyone was caught off guard,” one story opens, “when the Apocalypse came in the mail.” The End of Days even arrives in “partially used bubble wrap and covered in brown paper,” and the piece (“Eternal Insult Comics and Postal Forwarding Claim Forms”) ends with the narrator sharing the world post-Rapture with Don Rickles. He finds this rather an Inferno, naturally; the old insult comic “just won’t leave it alone.”
The rhetoric too, like that last line, is in the American grain. Most stories warp the jargons of business or technology, hilariously: “something about amortized mortgage futures of a dairy cow named Albert.” Now and again, also, Atkinson upends some cliché of entertainment news. Then he’ll give the berserk stuff a deflating finisher, like “Typical” or “That’s usually extra.” These verbal shrugs, besides being funny, offer resting places amid the madcap, a useful thing in such a collection. Roses Are Red… has no developing tension, and so a reader can only take only so much at single go. But the pleasures of this text are implied in that Stretch Armstrong of a title (itself a lot like most of the story titles): a fresh shot of madness and laughter, whenever you need one, leaving you with a lighter load.
Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep
by David S. Atkinson
Literary Wanderlust; 247 p.
John Domini’s latest book is MOVIEOLA!, linked stories, on Dzanc. In early 2019, he’ll publish his fourth novel, The Color Inside a Melon.