Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published April 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Fleeing Complexity all about?:

Fleeing Complexity is the shortest story in this collection comprising of one sentence only:

“The fire spread quicker than the little bastard was expecting.”

What did I think?:

I made a promise to myself when I started my Short Stories Challenge all that time ago that I would faithfully review every single story in a collection that I read, no matter what I though of them, even if I find them tough to finish (which has been the case for one in particular that springs to mind!). Then I came across Jon McGregor, who I have been a quiet fan of ever since reading his novel Even The Dogs. The stories in this collection so far have been nothing short of remarkable and vary in length considerably. There are ones that are a page long, others that are more regular length you expect from short stories and then there’s this one. One short little sentence.

When I first glanced through this collection, this one caught my eye, obviously because of its brevity and I have to admit, my heart sank. Not because I was disappointed, no, not at all! It was because I thought, quite frankly: “How the hell am I going to review THAT?” Now it’s come to the time when I have to review it, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the process. Jon McGregor has chosen every word he uses extremely carefully. I found this to be the case in all of his other stories but it is especially apparent with Fleeing Complexity.

Read it then read it again. There’s so many questions that could spring to mind and opportunities for the reader to use their own imagination in deciding what is going on. First of all, where has the fire been set? Is it a house? Is it woods? You see what I mean? It could be anywhere! Then, what are the repercussions of this fire going to be? There could be lives lost, property destroyed, consequences or indeed no consequences for the perpetrator, that is, if he/she is ever caught. Then I got to thinking why did this person start the fire? What were the reasons behind it? It could have been revenge, boredom, a teenage prank (assuming it is a teenager?!), a curiosity about fire gone wrong… there are so many options to explore. Next, the unknown narrator refers to our perp as “the little bastard.” Who is the narrator? What is their relationship with the fire-starter? Why do they refer to him/her in those derogatory terms? Finally, I really get the feeling that the spread of the fire was accidental – perhaps not the original starting of the fire but how fast it spread after being lit. Why else would our narrator say that it spread quicker than they were expecting?

So apologies if this post has brought up more questions and speculation than answers and feelings about the short story but it’s just one of those sentences that I think has deliberately been crafted to make you think and wonder about things in that way. Jon McGregor is a fantastic author and can’t do much wrong in my eyes and I love his inventiveness and the beautiful way he has with words and connecting with the reader. I’d love to know if you have any further thoughts about Fleeing Complexity. What do you think it’s all about? Can you think of something I may have missed?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank



6 comments on “Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

  • I enjoyed reading your review of this short story. You do seem to be left with more questions than answers but you’ve made me really want to pick up this collection and to read this story to see what I make of it. I do love Jon McGregor’s writing – I’ve just bought his new novel and am looking forward to reading it. I’ll definitely try his short stories after that though. Thank you for making me want to read it 🙂

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