Beasts & Men Review

Curtis Smith’s collection of essays entitled Beasts & Men marks the reader’s journey into the world of flash fiction. The genre of flash fiction is characterized by essays/short stories consisting of a mere 100 to 1000 words. The author must work to efficiently capture life’s most unique moments in an abridged form. This is not an easy task to complete as authors are often trained to employ longer detailed events and often longer, flowery language. The idea behind flash fiction is to abbreviate the use of the language in order to freeze and portray a single moment in time. Freezing a specific moment in time, is an element which the 30 pieces of flash fiction included within Beasts & Men excel beyond their call of duty.

I was first introduced to this text, in a previous creative writing class. We were given copies of Beasts & Men to read in preparation for the text’s author, Curtis Smith, who was a guest lecturer in our class. I instantly fell in love with the text. Although not included in this collection, “My Totally Awesome Funeral” is perhaps my all-time favorite work by Smith. On a side note, one of my favorite memories from Smith’s visit is during his public reading when Smith read “My Totally Awesome Funeral” for the audience. Hearing Smith read his essay aloud worked to further bring out the satirical, emotional perspectives and will always be one of my favorite moments from his campus visit. As a reader will notice solely by the title, “My Totally Awesome Funeral” offers insight to Smith’s satirical but emotionally deep sentiments surrounding life and death. The reading audience can expect similar attitudes ranging from touching to sarcasm but always poignant stances in Beasts & Men.  

From start to finish, each piece of flash fiction works to peel back the layers of society and the complex layers of human emotion. Personally, although it is challenging to privilege one story over another, some of the standouts of the collection include: “Lenin,” “The Diorama” and “The Couple and Their Secrets.” Smith offers the reader a look through the camera’s lens as he presents a snapshot of the human circumstance.

The snapshots of life range from “Lenin,” a story about a bankrupt country planning a worldwide tour for Lenin’s body. The fandom, the backlash and the chaos that ensues, illustrate the consequences of the trend-hopping, hottest vogue chasing, money loving society, in which we reside. To the other side of the scale, “The Couple and Their Secrets,” assists the reader in the realization that everyone retains secrets and pains which they carry with them throughout life.

Smith’s succinct language and short pieces of work create an interesting paradox that might shock a reader. This surprise is simply that succinct language and short pieces of work create an exceptionally descriptive slice of life. A description which can fill hundreds of pages and be created by thousands of words instead of just a special selected few. Reaching a reader with a few selected words is a concept I view as a prodigious skill. It is easy to influence people and cause them to ponder with profuse expressions. Furthermore, it is even easier to paint a masterpiece with a full color palate. Smith can paint a natural, realistic to life picture with a straightforward keyword. The true skill lies in what Curtis Smith evidently has mastered; condensing.

Condensing in writing is essentially saying what needs to be said and moving along. Striving to make a point with direct wording, without being bluntly in the reading public’s face is exactly what a reader will find when peeling back the layers of life illustrated in Beasts & Men. Now that I have written an entire page on condensing and being concise it is time to practice what Smith flawlessly preaches. Long story short: Buy the book. Read the book from beautifully decorated cover to cover! And you will fall helplessly in love with this text!