Life in a Small Town; or, How to Steal an RV


DON’T EVER CHANGE | Shasta Grant.

THIS. Magazine.

⇒Always happy to discover a new lit journal on the internet. THIS is a new, beautifully designed zine full of great short fiction and poetry. Shasta Grant’s polished, to-the-point flash fiction “Don’t Ever Change” is a great example of the caliber of writing featured on THIS. I certainly look forward to much more literary goodness from THIS (the title of which, I suppose, came about through some sort of Abbott and Costello  routine).

Okay, let’s talk about “Don’t Ever Change.” Grant’s piece opens with two sets of binaries:

There were two ways to make money in my hometown: building guns at the factory or selling used cars at one of the dealerships along Route 12.

There were two kinds of kids in town: the ones that left at the first opportunity and the ones that stayed.

According to Creative Writing 101, an author is supposed to introduce conflict as soon as possible, and this piece meets the challenge exceptionally well. Right away, we know the following things about the hometown of twenty-something Josh, our protagonist/narrator:

  1. It’s a small town (minimal commercial activity)
  2. It’s a poor town (minimal economic opportunity)
  3. It’s a divided town (some have more money/opportunity/ambition than others)

We know from the outset of this story that Josh is in the latter group in each binary:  he stays behind while various others of his generation flee town for opportunities in more exciting parts of the country; he ends up selling used cars and RVs for a guy named Bud.

That’s the first layer of the story’s conflict: Josh is stuck in a dead-end job in a dead-end town in Middle America. The second layer of conflict is this: all those kids who left town after high school to go to college and flourish in various big cities have returned for their 10-year high school reunion. What does this mean for our narrator? The opportunity to be reminded of his failings and missed opportunities. Importantly, Josh has access to cars and RVs via his job–so he has a way out of this one-stoplight town, if he musters the courage to leave (assuming, of course, that leaving town is simply a matter of courage).

Even though the author infuses this story with all sorts of personal and small-town details–it reads like a micro-memoir–the story is actually very archetypal. The community in which Josh languishes is unspecified beyond its location between the coasts; the town features two industries, guns and cars, which are as American as you can get; and the bifurcation of Josh’s generation between thrivers and strivers is quintessentially American. This is a distinctly American piece that touches on everything from family dynamics to economic opportunity and the small-town psyche.

This great story demonstrates that flash is capable of big things, even while it focuses on tiny details. I appreciate the elasticity of the flash format, and Ms. Grant demonstrates just how far this narrative form can stretch.

⇒Read this great piece in the inaugural issue of THIS.

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