How Best to Avoid Dying
Soft Skull Press – February 2014
by Owen Egerton
reviewed by Tony Burnett
With the publication of How Best to Avoid Dying, the world has found a new master of flash fiction. Egerton’s quirky foray into this genre takes the art form to a level rarely seen. His writing is visual and accessible probably due to his background in theater and improv. Although the collection does include longer pieces many of my favorite pieces are less than six pages long. Some are only incredibly descriptive vignettes.
At first glance the collection appears to be pure Americana; people you know, see, or see through daily. They are convenience store clerks, waffle house employees, teens attending church camp, husbands, wives and lovers. As you continue reading even the title takes on multiple meanings. Is there a best way to avoid dying? Is there any way to avoid dying?
In The Fecalist, Egerton turns a poop joke into a treatise on literary criticism. In fact he leaves the critics of few art forms unscathed. For instance; in Licorice music critics are panned, in Lish it’s spoken word. If you plan on getting a good night’s sleep don’t read Tonight At Noon or Christmas just before going to bed. Egerton bases a number of stories on our accepted rituals of religion. Though Christianity is foremost in Egerton’s discussion, cults are given the treatment in Cold Night Alligator. The message is in the folly of not isolating religious dogma from spirituality.
The pacing is superb and the dialog crisp. You often find his stories crossing over into prose poetry. The commonality, the unifying theme of the work, is that his characters are putting a great deal of effort into getting themselves into a situation where none of the possible outcomes put them in a better place.
The collection stretches the reader’s imagination, possibly changing some ingrained perceptions of the human psyche. Like poetry, the stories often offer deeper insight on multiple readings. It is one of the few collections that left this old farm hand with a tear in his eye; partly because it was over and partly because it ends so beautifully.
Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2011. His short stories and poems have been published in over 30 national literary journals. He is working on the manuscript for his second novel. He lives in rural central Texas with his trophy wife, Robin, where he grows organic vegetables and melons.