“Dip Flash” Jonathan Pinnock (Cultured Llama) – book review

Dip Flash Jonathan PinnockIf you’re looking for quirky, humorous flash fiction to dip in and out of, “Dip Flash” fits the bill. Stories feature disappearing houses, a bull in a china shop, live meat in a butcher’s shop, a wife who morphs into a cat, a granny equity scheme… all told economically and credibly with more than a dash of wit. Each story is focused and holds its own logic and even the more surreal ones contain a kernel of truth to get the reader thinking. The opening story, “The Picture of Mrs Tandoğan”, has a house that disappears but the story’s heart is about how we create memories in relationships through a compare and contrast between a selfie-snapping millennial couple and an elderly man who only has one picture of his wife.

The weaker stories feel as if there are merely a scene to build to a punchline. In “Rare Meat”, a butcher who has a crush on his customer agrees to source a piece of rare meat for her without knowing why she wants this particular meat. Problem is, the reader doesn’t get let in on her motive either: is she trying to impress someone, is she setting a test for the butcher, how does she feel about the butcher? She is reduced to a cipher.

Most of the stories don’t reduce their characters to ciphers and their motivations create credibility. Jonathan Pinnock’s strength lies in taking an idea, which might be an image, a proverb, a common phrase, and exploring its limits, often with humour. The compact nature of flash fiction is a perfect vehicle for this approach. There is much to enjoy in “Dip Flash”.

“Dip Flash” is available from Cultured Llama

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“Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff” Jonathan Pinnock (Silhouette Press) – poetry review

The title suggests this is not a serious collection. It does, however, tackle serious subjects, e.g. “this Is just To be meta” could be filed under ‘love’ (complete poem):

“I have deleted
the William Carlos Williams parody
that was in
your Dropbox

and which
you were probably
saving
for somewhere literary

Forgive me
it was a bit crap
so hackneyed
and so cliched”

The irony is clearly intentional and the last stanza could apply to this poem as well as the deleted one. It has a satisfying completeness that is sometimes lacking in other humorous poems where the poet is so busy building towards the punchline that, once the reader’s got the joke, there’s no need to read the poem again. Like other initial poems, it plays on the limitations of poetic forms and those restrictions are as much part of the joke as the words employed.

Naturally the other big topic for poetry is ‘loss’, frequently through bereavement. “Imitation of a Suicide” relies on readers knowing that Millais’ painting “Ophelia” (from “Hamlet”) was based on model Lizzie Siddal lying in a bath. Millais wasn’t aware that the heating lamps had gone out and Lizzie suffered a bout of pneumonia as a result. Lizzie was Rosetti’s lover and, scandalously for the time, he refused to marry her. The poem begins,

“Lizzie floats in the freezing bath,
dreaming of slippery tadpoles,
carried home in a jar
to upset her little brothers.”

Tadpoles grow into frogs that Lizzie has to kiss to find her prince and the poem ends,

“Now she finds herself
in the midst of veritable royalty:
artists like this man Millais.
Such talent they all have,
such skill, such genius.

Such carelessness.

And too late she will realise,
like Ophelia herself,
that a prince can let you down
the same as any other man.”

So that’s ‘love’ and ‘loss’ covered. ‘Other important stuff’? How about Philosophy? In “The Orange Girl and the Philosopher,” the philosopher asks the girl what she does and she reels off a list: singer, model, perfumer, fashion designer, charity work, two children’s books, three autobiographies, working on a novel and thinking of scriptwriting while,

“The old man looked at her, marvelling at
her orange skin tones, and wondering what
you could fill three autobiographies with. Then
he tore a hunk of bread off his roll, and ate it
in silence.

‘So what do you do?’ she said, eventually.

‘I’m a philosopher,’ he said, in a tired, old voice.
‘I look at the world and try to understand how
it works, so we can use that information to lead
better lives.’

‘Oh,’ said the girl. ‘I did that once.

.                                                          Didn’t like it.'”

The humour throughout is underpinned by an intelligent playfulness reminiscent of Tom Lehrer’s songs which also played with forms of expression and common phrases. Like those songs, Jonathan Pinnock’s poems allow readers to laugh along or recognise the underlying serious point being made. That’s the strength of these poems: they have something to say which gives them a depth beyond simply making the audience laugh.

“Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff” by Jonathan Pinnock is published by Silhouette Press.