Because I teach creative writing, and have taught flash fiction (very short stories) I want to avoid the professorial tendency to analyze too much and to be too prolix. I want to stress the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Tania Hershman's work: it's fun. Many of the stories are humourous, even wacky--"Einstein Plays Guitar" is one example, "Vegetable, Mineral" another--and many are thought-provoking, often because they have unusual perspectives. In "The Short Tree Has Its Hand Up", which is inspired by a painting by Corot, for instance, sentient and insentient beings have thoughts about human activity, as they do in "The Apple Trees Watched and Wondered". Some of the stories work the way poems work: you get an intense, vivid flash of vision and an epiphany. An example of this is "Colours Shift and Fade" in which a we glimpse a story of spousal abuse through the eyes of a baby. Many of the stories are 'experimental' like the title story, which begins with the arresting lines "My mother was an upright piano, spine erect, lid tightly closed, unplayable except by the maestro. My father was not the maestro." There are stories with scientific themes--one in which a scientist strips to her underwear on an impulse and immerses herself in a tank of liquid in which neutrinos are "fizzing and and streaming through her body", for example; there are stories that are mini-novels, like "Manoeuvres" or "The Lion and the Meteorite Can Never Touch You", and there are stories that are simply very short stories, quite conventional, often poignant tales of loss, of relationships unravelling, with sharp dialogue and touching insights. There are stories that riff off a word, an image, a motif, again like poems.
I hope I have given some idea of the vast range and scope of this collection. To call these stories chameleon-like is to understate the case: they not only change hue, but shape and form. This is a masterful collection of short-shorts, as good as any I have read. And it's not just clever: it's fun too. My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions by Tania Hershman