Why you should care

Because, as Shakespeare put it, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Reading literature: As our attention spans become shorter and shorter, there’s supposedly not much room in our busy brains to take in a good story. To better lure the smartphone set, some fiction writers have decided to strip down and power up their prose. And these stories are really short. Like, a few hundred words short.

Aussie writer Patrick Lenton is making waves with his debut short story collection, A Man Made Entirely of Bats, a sassy take on Hollywood’s superduper squads. Imagine taking your favorite superheroes, reaching into their spandex bottoms and giving them a massive atomic wedgie. Most of the stories in this careening romp of mutants, caped crusaders, villains and teenage boy bands take just a few minutes to read — about as long as it takes the barista to make your morning latte. But these microtales pack a powerful punch. Although the text is brief, the plot lines and characters shine through — like in the slapstick antics of Captain Charisma, whose powers of persuasion only work when drunk, and the Insomni-Yak, a furry, horned psychologist who counsels a sleep-deprived narrator. In “Mooncat,” the collection’s Kafka-esque opener, a human narrator proclaims that under a full moon, he turns into “the smuggest asshole cat you see.” Funny.

Microfiction is emerging as a valid literary form that’s “still being categorized.”

The writing is drawing comparisons to author and funnyman David Sedaris. “Like Sedaris, Lenton is hugely entertaining,” writes Veronica Sullivan, in a review for Australia’s Books+Publishing magazine, “which renders occasional moments of emotional tenderness all the more poignant.” Such as in the closing title, when Superman (there are regular superheroes too) ponders his immortality and the fact that Lois Lane is aging while he, of course, isn’t.

The 130-page collection, which has seen numerous positive reviews, was inspired by Lenton’s love of comic books. The 30-year-old author believes microfiction is emerging as a valid literary form that’s “still being categorized.” He may have a point: Spain’s Museum of Words began a now-annual $20,000 microfiction contest in 2010, and at least one anthology has adopted the concise genre, which is “highly respected” and “growing in commercial appeal,” says Pittsburgh’s Becky Tuch, editor of The Review Review, a U.S. journal review site. One of Lenton’s pieces, “King of the World,” was accepted into this year’s Best of Australian Comedy Writing anthology.

But getting the word out about A Man Made Entirely of Bats comes with challenges. First, it’s still a niche genre. And sometimes the gags fall flat and certain stories read like fan fiction (e.g., riffs on David Schwimmer and Liam Payne … yes, that Liam Payne of One Direction fame). And sales have been modest, reaching into the hundreds since its March debut, according to its Sydney-based publisher Spineless Wonders. But that’s not too bad, considering it’s a debut collection of microfiction “of a particularly oddball bent,” notes Spineless Wonders’ director of publishing Bronwyn Mehan. The collection is primed for an October release in the United States and Europe.

And while it’s impossible to know whether Bats will take off in the U.S., what does seem apparent is that a wider space is opening in the literary playing field for short, powerful fiction. And who better than a band of misfit superheroes to take up that challenge?

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