About two thirds of the way through ‘The Fabric of Tombstones’ there’s a line – short and sweet though it is – that perhaps sums up what we should expect from B.F Jones’ debut flash fiction collection.
‘All these souls, here momentarily, before going there permanently, trying to get on with their lives and make sense of it all.’
‘The Fabric of Tombstones’ is, without a doubt, a character driven flash fiction collection that feeds off the anxieties and experiences of death (and life) and zeroes in on them acutely. That is what makes flash fiction. Whilst the background to each story we read is no doubt important, nothing quite compares to the characters who exist within those worlds we create. Here, Jones has created an interconnected microcosm of people we know – the next-door neighbour, the gossiping mother at school, the parent who lost a child and the elderly man who is surely about to die. Yet within that familiarity, there is the nuances – the subtleties and implications of actions, and (as someone who loves something off-kilter) the weird and the haunting.
Stacked with 26 tales, ‘The Fabric of Tombstones’ is rich in flash fiction and rich too, in its tapestry of interwoven lives. Characters appear and reappear throughout – either directly, or occasionally through the odd name check and brief illusion to their life (or even their demise – the title of the collection should give you a hint at what’s to come). Death rules in ‘The Fabric of Tombstones’. It bleeds across the pages and ties our characters together and pulls them apart. Cliché though it is, death truly is a certainty (so too are taxes, well, for some of us at least.)
But death – and life – is not the be all and end all for these characters. They exist within the fissures of each, oscillating in and out. In ‘William’s Last Words’ we are treated a man (William) and his last words before the grim reaper takes him -‘Oh Dear.’ Turns out they weren’t the words he was going for, and in what we assume is the afterlife, they plague him. However, so consumed are we by William’s gripe with himself, that it takes us, and him, a while to realise that perhaps he isn’t dead at all. And that perhaps, he can have a second go at dying, and get the words right this time. Here Jones twists the ending, and quite neatly interlaces comical undertones.
The twist of an ending is a technique that Jones wields across many of the 26 tales and does so with skill. You think you’re on sure ground, until she goes ahead and pulls the rug. ‘Five Trees’, ‘26’ and ‘Waiting for Death’ all take a snap turn towards the end – ‘Five Trees’ especially and wickedly so. Turns out the wife you think has left you might only be a cellar away.
Talking of people in cellars, elsewhere Jones leads us down various uncanny paths. In ‘Pigeon Trouble’ there’s the issue of a narrow chimney and an array of dead pigeons. Strangely enough, the chimney is sealed, begging the delicious question – ‘where did all the pigeons come from?’. In ‘Angel Wing’ we are transported to a house with weird noises. And whilst the premise isn’t anything new – we’ve all read something about a suspected haunted house – Jones still delivers, ramping up the tension and knitting in a plot within a plot. Yes, the house is odd, but what about the couple inside it – especially Gemma and her grief for the child she has lost.
It’s hard to give airtime to each piece within ‘The Fabric of Tombstones’ – and we’d be here too long (she says, whilst currently in lockdown, with nowhere to go.) But let it be known that there is much to be enjoyed from the 26 flash fictions included. Some have been previously published in various journals such as STORGY Magazine and Cabinet of Heed – and some are brand new for the collection. Yet each follow one another neatly. Cohesion is a masterstroke of a good collection, where each piece compliments one another. Here, that’s not in doubt. And whilst I wish some pieces were longer – but that’s a selfish wish on my part – and some where I get to experience the characters lives a little deeper, ‘The Fabric of Tombstones’ is a wonderful collection that turns and turns, delivering delicate prose and intriguing cast of characters. It also delivers a killer final flash fiction, one that leaves us with a brilliant final line that rounds the collection off in style.
‘And she grabs her scythe, and walks out, slamming the door.’
The Fabric of Tombstones is published by The Writing Collective and is available here.
B F Jones
B F Jones is French and moved to the UK in 2002. She lives in Surrey with her husband, three children and cat, and works as a digital project manager. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, family time, and reviewing books for STORGY Magazine. She started writing a few year back but didn’t submit much. She eventually started doing so in 2017. She was commended for the LISP Flash Fiction Competition as well as for the R C Sheriff Trust’s Literary Prize in Autumn 2017 after which she took a writing break for a year before starting to submit to various magazines. She has stories published in several places including The Cabinet of Heed, Spelk, Bending Genres, The Fiction Pool, Back Patio, Funny Pearls and An Elephant Never.
Reviewed by Emily Harrison
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