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992 words
SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Tip-of-the-Iceberg Stories:

Grant Faulkner’s Fissures: One Hundred 100-Word Stories

Reviewed by Clare MacQueen

Press 53 (2015)

Cover of Fissures, 100-word stories by Grant Faulkner

What a remarkable collection, and highly recommended, especially for those skeptical of tiny fiction as a serious art form, and for anyone who thinks that powerful, evocative, and satisfying stories cannot be told within 100 words. Grant Faulkner demonstrates that they can be, and artfully so.


It was just one lovely September day, Gerard wrote. A silhouette, a shape, a mood. You should have asked me about the benefits of restrained desire. I glorified myself for having chosen you, perfect in your imperfections. My language fumbled; you chose not to speak. I said you were adorable, the way you sat in a chair. You said you wanted to fuck me. Your image out of thousands suited my desire. What an odd way to say such a thing. Adorable doesn’t mean much, though, does it? And then fucking made it not so. A hammer on a butterfly.

Using such poetic techniques as compression, ambiguity, and vivid imagery (“I was the kid with mangy ears and biscuits sopped in syrup”1), the author tells large stories within tiny spaces: in fact, when writing Fissures he focused on the spaces themselves, those “odd gaps of silence”2 that can translate into distances and disconnections between loved ones:

What if, instead of relying on the words of a story, I relied on the spectral spaces around those words? What if I privileged excision over any notion of comprehensiveness, and formed narratives around caesuras and crevices?3

Ironically enough, Faulkner serves as Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month and has focused on long narratives for most of his writing career. Fissures came about because he enjoys experimentation. After a friend of his wrote a memoir consisting of a hundred 100-word stories, he was intrigued and tried his own hand at the form. Yet he was frustrated not only with his inability to pare and prune the stories to 100 words, but also with what he was forced to leave out.4

Evaluating his writing habits, he realized that his training to write novels “through back stories, layers of details, and thickets of connections”5 was not helpful for creating flash fiction (typically defined as stories of fewer than a thousand words). Flash, as Faulkner came to understand, “[adheres] more than any other narrative form to Hemingway’s famous iceberg dictum: only show the top 10 percent of your story, and leave the other 90 percent below water to be conjured.”6

Three Sides

He was the unknown guest at a party who is introduced to no one. He watched families pull ice chests out of cars, open sodas, and traipse off to soccer games on irrigated fields. In a café, he listened to lovers deciding what movie to go to, where to dine. Clothes would drop to the floor that night, but they wouldn’t be his. Drinking alone is so often disparaged, but each sip is like a meditator’s breath. When the stripper moved his head between her breasts, he remembered how he’d liked studying triangles. Scalene, equilateral, isosceles, the lines always connected.

To better understand the characters Faulkner has conjured and the desires driving them, we can explore those crevices around which he has crafted his stories. This journey is among the reasons these drabbles, and flash works in general (whether fiction, nonfiction, or prose poetry), appeal to me so much. Like the best poets, masters of flash writing are courageous enough and wise enough to trust us readers to infer back stories, to coalesce hints and clues into larger connections, and to linger long enough to discover epiphanies, all translating into a holistic reading experience which may be more evocative than the authors themselves might have imagined.

Writing these miniscule marvels not only required artistry and technical control down to the weighing of each word—much like crafting fine poetry—but also, paradoxically, a willingness to let go, to tolerate or even welcome a certain degree of uncertainty in the contract between author and reader. I sense this willingness in Faulkner’s observation:

The wonderful thing about life is its ineffable qualities, the mystery of who we are and why we do the things we do. Meaning is always tenuous, never certain. I guess the search for meaning resides more in poetry than logic for me.2

Delightful also to learn that he develops characters by visiting his “inner junk shop,” where his musings about human nature are stored along with moods, images, and glimpses of situations, which found their way into Fissures, gelling into epigrammatic insights such as:

None of us are born to tie knots, yet most of us do.7
True lovers are expert in constructing penitentiaries.8
One never opens a crypt, yet the body is always primped and dressed for a ball.9

In conclusion, as Browning famously wrote, less is more,10 as with my favorite tip-of-the-iceberg, multitude-containing story from Faulkner’s collection:

Fear and Trembling

The clerk at the vitamin store sneaks a cigarette. My friend who works at Planned Parenthood has unprotected sex in airport bathrooms. I once heard a doctor ask, “What is health?” I’m reminded of Abraham holding a knife over his son, a sacrifice commanded by God. Faith? A monk burns himself in front of the White House. A skinny boy buys a gallon of protein powder. A virgin practices a sultry wink in the mirror. I look both ways when I cross the street. Each time my heartbeat skips, though, I wonder. A prayer, a scotch, a dare, a prayer.


  1. Grant Faulkner. “Looking In.”

  2. Meg Pokrass. “Grant Faulkner Writes about Life’s Fissures,” an interview, [100 word story], July 2015:

  3. Ibid.

  4. Grant Faulkner. “Going Short. Going Long.” The New York Times, 30 September 2013:

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Grant Faulkner. “The Scar.”

  8. ---. “Souvenir.”

  9. ---. “Letters from the Crypt.”

  10. Robert Browning. “Well, less is more, Lucrezia...” in “Andrea del Sarto.”


Grant Faulkner

Photograph of Grant Faulkner

likes big stories and small stories. He is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. His stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, The Southwest Review, PANK, Gargoyle, eclectica, Puerto del Sol, Berkeley Fiction Review, and Word Riot, among many others. He lives in Berkeley with a family of writers and a dog which insists on sitting on his lap each morning when he writes.

Author Bio at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

[100 word story]

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury