Friday, May 12, 2006

Reading Short Stories

With time in such short supply, I've been reading more short stories. My theory is I can always finish a short story and won't have to worry about getting stuck reading the same novel for two months, three months, in any case well beyond the time when the initial impetus has petered out.

I've recently read Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, Dubliners, which I'm a little embarrassed to admit I had not yet read in its entirety, Isaac Babel's collected stories, and James Salter's Last Night. I don't have anything revolutionary to say. They were all good. The Babel stories were astonishingly frightening. Coming to Dubliners after having read Ulysses and Portrait, I was surprised by how straightforward these stories seemed. Restraint is its own kind of artistry, one that, for whatever reason (*cough*Ulysses*cough*) I don't usually associate with Joyce.

Now I'm reading the 2006 Pushcart Prize anthology. I'm less enamored of the stories in this collection, sorry to say. I'm a big fan of economy, compression, and subtlety in short stories. When I say subtlety, I mean subtlety of action where the reader must do some work to understand why people do what they do. The stories selected for inclusion here feel more like excerpts from novels. More digression, airier prose. The advantage in this approach to story writing is that you get more of the world in your story. You have some freedom to put in details that don't link to several other aspects of the story. So, as I say, these stories let in more of the world. And they explore the minds of the characters explicitly rather than leaning so heavily on what the reader may gather by observing the action of the story.

So, mostly not my cup of tea, though I've read a story or two I thought were winners. The Alex Mindt story I liked rather a lot, though I found it sentimental in places. And I'm not finished with the book yet.


  1. Imported on behalf of: Mike Jasper
    **He's back!**

    I find I like some digression in a story, or, maybe even moreso, the use of tangents to come at a theme from a different angle (Kelly Link does this in her fiction quite well), so long as it's all tied together more or less by the end.

    Maybe I'll pick up the Pushcart antho and compare notes with ya!

  2. Imported on behalf of: Lee
    I don't think I disagree with you, Mike. I love stories that circle around, as long as they come back around in the end. (Tony Earley is a master of this. I wrote about it somewhere on here.) But some of these stories seem too loose-goosey to me.

    And a couple of days later, I wonder if my problem might not be more with the language of these stories than with the digressions. They (generalizing here) seem long-winded to me, without the nice compression and economy of language I like in short stories.

    I'd love to know what you think, if you do try out the anthology. Read it, and let me know! And when I get finished with it, I'll make another post with more specifics.

    And by the by, I bet you'd like James Salter too. He's not so far away from that Carver/Wolff/Ford territory I remember you liking. His first collection \_Dusk\_ is probably the place to start.

  3. Imported on behalf of: Lee
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