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Associate Editor Pamelyn Casto

A Close Reading of Ryan Griffith’s
Thrill of Fire

This story Thrill of Fire originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Night Train and was subsequently chosen as one of the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Stories of 2012. It was also published by Flash Fiction in 2015. 

Associate Editor Pamelyn Casto Flash Discourse: A Featured Series of Close Readings ”A Close Reading of Ryan Griffith’s ‘Thrill of Fire’”
Automobile Accident by Howard Taft Lorenz

Ryan Griffith’s “Thrill of Fire” is a disturbing little one-sentence story about two boys in a fatal car accident. The story opens in medias res and a horrible and tragic driving accident has already occurred. The two boys involved are caught in mid-air after the car they were riding in ripped through the highway guardrail. What’s expressed in the tiny story is a brief glimpse of that split second of time when the boys are still fully and intensely alive.

Griffith uses several effective details to show the “before time.” These details are outstanding for touching a reader’s emotions. The boys are one with their machine—the car stereo thumps like a heartbeat, and the tune they were listening to is still playing. During this split-second of time, they still have their skin, still have their liquid eyes moving in their sockets.” They still have the scars mapping their hands and one boy acknowledges how he loves his mouth that he sees reflected in the mirror. Their spines are still intact, and their names are still attached to their histories. The driver continues to steer but now steers through the sky. The car they’re in is “torqued and rolling” and moans in flight. The boys display no fear or panic or even any kind of awareness of what’s to come.

The story points out that the boys have not yet become dental records or traffic fatality statistics, and no policeman yet signals with his two fingers that there are two victims in the crash. This is that split-second of time just before everything changes for the two boys, just before “that holy moment of falling”—the time just before their death and destruction. This is that period of time when the throb of life is amplified that Griffith manages to capture so well.

In this story, the author somewhat defamiliarizes that split-second just before the boys’ lives are destroyed. In the twinkling of an eye, the boys are in the process of being transported from one sphere of existence to another. Griffith presents that fragment of time as being an astounding fullness of life for the boys. He seems to suggest that this split second could even be life at its fullest. Perhaps the two “plain and lovely” boys in their “holy moment of falling,” are experiencing the thrill of being fully on fire with life. The author’s words suggest that even in the face of total destruction, being alive can create a sense of exhilaration and beauty.

This tiny piece of flash fiction does what good flash fiction does so well. It urges us to slow down, ponder the fullness of the fragment of time presented, and gain new possibilities in our ways of thinking. I like to think in their moment prior to destruction, these lovely boys experienced an intense split-second of bliss and rapture. May the boys rest in peace.


About the writer:
PAMELYN CASTO, twice a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published feature-length articles on flash fiction in Writer’s Digest (and in their other publications), Fiction Southeast, and Writing World (and elsewhere). Her essay on flash fiction and myth appears in Rose Metal Press’s Field Guide To Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field and her 8,000-word essay on flash fiction is included in Books And Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading (4 volumes). She also has a 5,000-word article on flash fiction as the lead article in the new book Critical Insights: Flash Fiction. Subscribe to her free online monthly FlashFictionFlash newsletter (first issue published in 2001) for markets, contests, and publishing news for flash literature writers. Casto is an Associate Editor at O:JA&LPamelyn Casto’s new book Flash Fiction: Alive in the Flicker (A Portable Workshop), a new release from O:JA&L’s Buttonhook Press, is available now on Amazon.

About Ryan Griffith:
Ryan Griffith is a writer whose work has appeared in elimaeNightTrainDogzplotNanofictionFictionDaily, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2012 and 2022, Best Microfiction 2023, and elsewhere.

Image: Automobile Accident by Howard Taft Lorenz (1905-1956). Oil on canvas. 24.2 x 30.2 inches. 1936. Public domain via The Works Progress Administration.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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