Book Review – ‘Some Days Are Better Than Ours’ by Barbara Byar

I purchased a copy of this book from the publisher.

Barbara Byar’s Some Days Are Better Than Ours is described as a collection of tragedies. This is an accurate assessment – but far from a complete one. Here, Byar has sifted through the worst aspects of humanity without looking away; but in doing so she also highlights the moments of beauty, the ways people can find light in even the darkest moments. 

In a war-torn city, a widow finds a moment of love as her world disintegrates; a bullied young man is rescued by his secret love and finds the courage to express his feelings; a couple rediscover connection even as their relationship ends. These are just some of the stories Barbara tells. In each one, despite the horrors they sometimes uncover, there’s always a hero; a character who, despite the brevity of these flash fiction pieces, manages to have you cheering for them. In some cases, the tragedy leads to freedom and the characters are liberated by these last acts of destruction. In every case the stories leave you with an occasionally sad but always satisfying ending.

Barbara Byar is an extremely skilled writer of flash fiction and her talent is on full display with this book. Her voice always feels authentic and her characters are diverse, ensuring there is broad appeal. A small girl describes her best friend in ‘Bear’:

Bear couldn’t talk, her mouth was sewn shut, but her never-closing, black button-eyes assured me everything would be alright. 

This sits in contrast to the ‘Old Woman in a Black Buick Tripping on Nine Inch Nails’:

 She undid her halter top with one deft hand, flipped him a tit and then the bird. She was over the pass and going down fast. Hand on the gun, she rolled down the window and shot at the truck.

Byar moves effortlessly through different points of view, keeping the narrative style fresh and engaging. One piece that stands out for its experimental use of form and brevity to drive the piece forward is ‘Thoughts While Being Strangled On Honeymoon’, which tells an entire, devastating story using only seven words, in various arrangements. There is also a visual element to this piece which raises the tension beautifully.

Barbara’s great strength in writing flash fiction is her ability to choose just the right details, in just the right dose, to draw the reader in and drive the plot forward. In a single detail, she conveys backstory quickly and avoids bogging the reader down, as in this example from ‘The Shutters’:

Charles sat in shadow, head bald as the old monkey’s, a jagged scar stitched across his forehead.

In the context of the story, the reader is able to fill in all the details about where Charles is and why he’s there, without stepping away from the immediate plot device, which is the conversation with his brother. This subtle approach also allows for a gentle building of layers, making subsequent readings attractive and rewarding.

Some Days Are Better Than Ours is a strong, tightly themed collection of exceptional writing. Don’t be dissuaded by the tragic element. It is the refusal to flinch, even in the darkest moments, that breathes life into these stories and sows seeds of hope that all the tragedy has not been in vain.

Some Days Are Better Than Ours is available now from Reflex Press.

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