When I first saw Discount Noir on the digital shelves over at Amazon, I knew I had to buy it. The premise of a book filled with flash fiction about
Wal-Mart Megamart seemed too perfect to pass up, especially since I’ve been employed at Wal-Mart for the past six years. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty of composing a coherent overview of an anthology collection featuring works from more than forty different authors.
The first problem is the fact that there are so many varieties of style and quality in this book. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that any of the stories were truly bad, but some of them were simply boring. And others seemed fine enough as I was reading them, but quickly slipped out of my mind when I moved to the next story.
Which brings me to the second problem with this anthology: all the stories are flash fiction, specifically works of 800 words or less. Flash fiction is a wonderful fiction form, one that I’ve dabbled in myself from time to time, but putting forty-plus flash fiction stories all in a row like Discount Noir does presents a rather unique problem: because all the stories have a similar length, reading through them one after another starts to feel rhythmic and methodical. It becomes far too easy to move on to the next story without really taking in the full scope of the previous one, which means that even moments of true brilliance are easily lost in the noise.
Finally and possibly most important to me personally is the lack of experience many of the writers seemed to have with
Wal-Mart Megamart. One story that really stuck out for me involved a guy trying to hold up the gun counter and getting blown away by the guys who worked there. I happen to work at the gun counter myself, and let me tell you, there are a number of reasons why that scenario could never ever happen. I understand that not everyone writing these stories has my level of personal experience, but I contend that it’s perfectly possible to write a good story without going so far beyond the bounds of your knowledge.
So far I’ve been critical, but the truth is this anthology really isn’t a bad read. As I mentioned before, there weren’t any real stinkers, and I found at least a few stories that moved me in strange and interesting ways.
Probably my favourite story in the anthology, “A Fish Called Lazarus,” makes beautiful metaphorical use of a bird trapped inside the confines of a big store. Another story of note, “Skylar Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit,” is a hilarious mash-up to the tune of Sherlock Holmes meets Wal-Mart. Other memorable stories include “Friday Night with the Tijuana Wolfman”, “What Was Heavy?” and “Black Friday.”
The final verdict? Meh. The collection was enjoyable enough, and from time to time, gems of true brilliance stood out from the pack, but overall I wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t feel like my money was wasted, but I think the sticker price of $4.50 could maybe use a Rollback. If you really like flash fiction this collection is worth a look. Otherwise you might do better to take your business elsewhere. Megamart may not be the store for you.