While the word counts of Alex Epstein's "microfictions" may rarely reach triple digits, the seven stories we're publishing this week at Recommended Reading, from his new collection, For My Next Illusion I Will Use Wings, occupy the space of something much larger.
In these stories, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, as in all his writing, Alex performs an act of distillation, capturing the very essence of fiction. His stories are so poignant they penetrate, resonate, and are certain to leave a profound impression. Alex’s writing often features figures from science, mythology, history, and literature; he writes about Kafka and language, Odysseus and the passage of time, love and technology. And it is in these seemingly familiar, outsized elements that we see ourselves reflected.
In the first story of Alex's earlier collection Blue Has No South (2010), Karl Jung gives his mistress a watch without a minute hand, a watch that "measures the time of love." It seems time moves differently for each of us: it drags, it flies, it slips by, it slows, and is gone before we know it. We cherish our time, yet we spend afternoons killing it. As in life, in Alex's stories, time is relative. A lifetime is compressed to a few sentences, or a single moment expands into a lifetime.
Alex's stories are short, remarkably short. In comparison, even flash fiction feels decadent. But his writing isn't an exercise in Oulipian restraint, or an effort to craft Twitter-friendly fiction—although Alex often tweets his stories, and once experimented with Facebook publishing—it's what comes naturally. Alex told me it took him 10 years—during which time he wrote three novels—to discover that for him "extreme brevity was the right filter." For Alex, microfiction is "the most genuine literature format of our era, the combination of the fact that everything can change with a blink of the eye, but at the same time remain as it always was."
The refined nature of these stories is so unusual, so remarkable, that we're departing from Recommended Reading's normal publication schedule. Instead of one story a week, starting October 10, we're publishing one microfiction a day for seven days, each accompanied by a beautiful illustration by David Polonsky. Later, they'll all be available together online, and in Kindle and ePub formats. But, as Alex recently expressed in an email, "The reader is always smarter than the writer, and he will figure out the best way to read the text." However you encounter these stories, we encourage you to share them, to spend time with them, to let them, however briefly, take you someplace new.
Now, as Alex once wrote, "It's your turn to find an alibi for the imagination."
Co-Editor, Recommended Reading
Illustration © 2012 by David Polonsky