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on April 12, 2010
Really enjoyed this collection of stories--the author calls it "micro-fiction," a sub-genre of short stories. The brevity of the stories really reflects the way people consume information now--social networking, news via twitter and huffpo, etc.

The author has a real eye for description and verbal illustration. When you finish a story (which doesn't take that long), you have a crystal clear view of the characters, the place, the emotion going through them.

It's great to read something that is about DC and doesn't cave to the political drama/conspiracy on Capitol Hill plot line. DC the CITY is the venue here and it really works--like the mention of Galludet and Polly's. These are places that make DC a vibrant city and not just a place of political intrigue.

Overall, a great work by a new author. Strongly recommend for anyone looking for something new to sink your teeth into.

-M
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on May 19, 2010
At first I found the style to be a little strange, (the stories can be very short) but despite the length I found them to be really interesting and satisfying. For the most part, Fingerprints is eloquently written. More than several genres are represented here, and the emotions portrayed are really tangible. The author has a great eye for detail and an impressive way with words. As a DC native, it made me feel at home to see so many familiar landmarks and neighborhoods mentioned.

An eye-opening first effort from an up-and-coming author. I look forward to seeing what he does in the future. Highly recommended for those with short attention spans as well as for fans of short stories and literary fiction. Two thumbs up!
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on October 12, 2010
Summary

In this crazy world of novels composed on cell phones and short stories posted on Twitter, flash fiction is all the rage. When done well, flash fiction can offer refreshing glimpses into a story, insights that seem all the more precious for their conciseness. When done poorly, however, the story seems unfinished and empty, almost lazy, with merely the promise of plot.

Fingerprints, Joel Church's first collection of flash fiction, captures both the enticing and the mundane. Set against the backdrop of Washington, D.C., Church's characters explore topics ranging from sexuality and drug abuse to childhood and loss. These stories extend from two to ten pages long, and their brevity makes them an excellent read on the metro; I could read for only one or two stops and not feel completely lost the next time I opened the book.
Analysis

D.C. is prominent throughout the stories, not only as a venue, but also almost as a character itself that appears in the background--a familiar friend. "Polly's cafe," the story of a U St. landmark and hip hangout, is one good example, but many other neighborhoods are mentioned: Dupont, Foggy Bottom, and Columbia Heights, to name a few.

It surprised me that, in a collection of stories that focused quite a bit on young and middle-aged adults, some of the collection's shining stars are the stories about kids. In "Joes," the anguish and joy of childhood are displayed wonderfully, and "Lemonade, Inc." is precocious and charming.

But the collection touches on many more grown-up issues as well. I was touched by the poignancy of two lonely people with such an unexpected relationship in "Father of the Year," and the premise of "The Beloved Chad Fairwell" was interesting and creative; I would have liked to see the author put his imagination to use in more stories like this one.

Unfortunately, other parts of the collection were more disappointing. Everyone on the fringes of a social circle has imagined the fates of the dense jocks and self-important beauty queens that ruled high school. But several stories are sprinkled with clichés and the judgments from the narrator, and straddle the line of revenge fantasy just a little too much. Sometimes the author does too much telling and not enough showing, with easy, flat truisms that distance the reader from the narrator, rather than inspiring empathy.

However, I was most bothered by the lack of compelling female characters. Nearly every woman mentioned is a victim: of desire or pity at best, but of violence and contempt at worst. Many of the women are portrayed as materialistic, desperate, vapid, and lacking in confidence, self-esteem, and self-control.

Though some of the men also seem overtly pathetic, there are just as many well-rounded and healthy male characters to be found--from the quiet, shy guy in a band to the hopeful young boy playing with his G.I. Joes.

Moreover, almost every story in first-person perspective is narrated by a male, and their surprisingly constant chauvinism makes many of the stories blend together. If being an insensitive jerk is the stance that most characters take, perhaps the stories would be better suited as long short-stories or even a novella that would combine the similar elements of all of the stories. I expect from flash fiction wide viewpoints, plots, and characters--the flexibility of the genre is one of its strengths.

Of course, I'm also not saying that having an insensitive jerk as a main character is necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has felt the enigmatic pull of characters such as Tyler Durden and Holden Caulfield, and seeing the world through the eyes of someone else always has its advantages. However, stories that prominently feature inequality among characters--be it economic, racial, sexual, professional, or anything else that puts one character in a position of power over another--must also have at least a hint of self-awareness. The male narrators do not seem to realize that the women in the stories are mistreated, so no commentary is made upon their victimization.

While I always enjoy reading about the "real" D.C. (and not the one that no one watched on MTV, either), I found the weaknesses of some of the stories to be off-putting. However, I applaud the author for his innovative use of the flash-fiction form, and I would like to see more inventive yet refined stories from him.

Joel Church is a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C., area. In addition to his fiction, he is also an abstract artist.
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on April 15, 2010
I really enjoyed the variety in this book of short stories. There is something in here for everyone. Joel really uses vivid imagery, and creates unusual characters. Very accessible and enjoyable. Looking forward to more.
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on May 10, 2010
I have really enjoyed Fingerprints. There is a story in there for everybody and so much of it is relatable to those living the single life in a big city.
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on June 16, 2015
A new twist on literature for the twitter generation. Church's "Fingerprints" is a collection of tiny stories that are packed with emotion and nostalgia. Most of the stories take place at the jaded end of youth, the 20s and 30s, where the author's characters struggle to find themselves against the dramatic backdrop of a lesser-known Washington DC. However, just when you think you know what's happening, a few of the stories take the reader in a totally different direction: prostitutes being mugged, a kid playing with GI-Joes, and other surprises. Overall, I think Church's book is a worthy read and a daring new experiment in modern fiction.
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