Sunday, July 20, 2008

Short Stories, Life

I've read a few collections of short stories lately (You Are Not A Stranger Here and Flights Of Love, and re-reading The Palace Thief). I've been drawn to short story anthologies as long as I can remember, at least as far back as our assignment to read Hemingway's in high school. Given the choice, I usually prefer a book of short stories to a novel-- a fact I've generally attributed either to a short attention span, or to the increased intensity that is often inherent in the short-story format. But I've had a nagging feeling that there was something else.

I think I have an explanation, after all these years. The hint was a realization, the other day, that I religiously avoid looking ahead to see how long each story is. It might be three pages long. It might be sixty. I never know how much life the story has left in it. Each page might be the last, or it might be just a prelude. I don't know until, suddenly, I flip a page and, with the warning of only a few lines or a paragraph, it's over. This is very different from reading a novel, where you can measure the thickness of the characters' remaining life with your eye and thumb, where in fact you can't avoid knowing how much time is left. And, it seems to me, this is much more like real life. You never know how long or short your story, or those of the other characters in your life, will be. You know that so long as you're still breathing, the plot keeps thickening. But where it ends, that's a secret.


Blogger charlsiekate said...

I think the best short story I've read in a while is the Secret Sharer - by Joseph Conrad. I bought Heart of Darkness years ago off a summer reading book rack, but I never actually got around to reading Heart of Darkness. But the book included The Secret Sharer, and I did finally read that last summer.

I highly recommend it. My other favorites are from old school books, 9 Stories by Salinger, and the To Build a Fire collection by London.

I love how you pick up in the middle of something and you try to find out what is going to happen but by the time you do, it is over. Thrilling somehow.

7/21/08, 10:51 AM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

I was given a book of short stories by my boyfriend's mother as a gift after I had my surgery in May. The collection is called "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri. I regret that I haven't started reading it just yet, but I think I will read it next as soon as I finish reading P.D. James' "The Children of Men", which is very very different from the movie! That book, which I'm only halfway through, is now a couple of days overdue to the library, so I hope they let me renew in spite of that!

The unpredictability of the end of life.... something I've been thinking about a lot as a young 13 year old girl I know was killed suddenly in a car accident by a speeding drunk driver a little over a week ago. I know it was her time - we all have a time - but how does one wrap their head around the fact that her life was due to end?

I've never really been a short-story person, but you've suggested some good ones to check out, I think!

Take care,
Carrie :)

8/7/08, 11:01 AM  
OpenID papalaura143 said...


8/19/08, 9:41 PM  
Blogger marcia said...

Have you read Bernice Bobs her Hair, by Fitzgerald? An old one--1920s--but excellent. That's one I remember from high school (considerably later in the century).

Another great one, imo, is Thurber's The Catbird Seat.

Both of these can be found online (free read!).

9/11/08, 10:25 PM  

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