Reviewed by Steve Welsh, Shura Price, Theresa Sowerby & Zoe Collins from Todmorden Wednesday Writers
Writer: B F Jones
Publisher: The Writing Collective
Release date: April 2020
At first glance, this presents as a collection of flash fiction, each story centred on a different character. But we soon realised it’s more; the stories are intricately connected, and a wider story-arc emerges little by little. It’d be too much of a spoiler to give away exactly what the link between them is – but they take place in one small town, and with a title like The Fabric of Tombstones, it’s probably OK to say that death is… prominent.
The interweaving of the stories is absorbing. Places recur; events are shown from different angles; the main character of one story appears in the background of the next. This gives a satisfying, sometimes dreamlike complexity; it also neatly reflects the reality of small communities, where the central conflict of Person A’s life is just a bit of side gossip to Person B. We did wonder, though, whether the structure was distracting us too much. Did we feel so clever at having worked it out, that we were focusing on how the stories fit it, rather than experiencing each story on its own terms? And while some of us enjoyed the puzzle, others felt that fewer stories, and less focus on their interrelatedness, would have been a better read.
That said, the individual stories do stand up on their own; after all, many of them were originally published individually in magazines. Each ends with a twist or a thud, mostly an effectively chilling one. Some of the horrors explored are maybe overfamiliar – rats, or being trapped – and one or two endings are too unspecific; but most of them hit home, just the right balance of detail and indefiniteness to engage the dark of the imagination. We enjoyed the overall tone, too, sinister and bleakly comic (it makes even more sense when you work out who the narrator is); and how it’s leavened by some vividly poetic images. Like when a young woman trips while running and is winded, there’s the crystalline ”I try to shout for help; my mouth opens but no sound comes out. Like a cat on the other side of a window.”
Although we didn’t all warm to every character, we admired how well-drawn they are, in the economical, intense way that flash fiction demands. And (intriguingly for a group of reviewers based in a kooky little town) the town of the book emerges as a compelling character too, growing darker and darker as the book goes on – a place where the ordinary slips out of joint, and stifling anxieties distort reason.
We were left fascinated, though, by exactly what kind of book this is. Many flash fiction collections can be read in any order; but not so much with The Fabric of Tombstones. To get the slow reveal of connections, you’d probably have to read it in order; so this felt interestingly hybrid, close to a novel-in-flash. Like a novel, the individual characters and moments are of no real consequence in isolation; but taken together, they gain weight, and form a story that’s bigger than it looks.
You can buy your copy of The Fabric of Tombstones here.
B F Jones is French and lives in the UK. She has flash fiction and poetry in various UK and US online magazines. Her flash collection, Panic Attack, and poetry chapbook, Last Orders, will both be published by Close To The Bone in late 2021.
Todmorden Wednesday Writers are a group of writers, performers and reviewers based in Todmorden, a little town on the balance-point between Leeds and Manchester. Find them at @TodWedWriters