I was thinking about this quite a bit today, and now that I am at my beloved Starbucks, it is still on my mind. I wonder from whence cometh this quirk of mine!
The short answer would be →I think that with a collection of short stories, if the first few are not all that great there is always the hope that they will get better.
With each new story my faith is renewed. So if I am let down time and again, hmmm…. I feel that. Because see, I try to enter in to the context of a short story with all of the same intensity that I would a novel.
So while a bad novel is like being struck in the face, a bad pile of short stories is like turning the other cheek.
A reader is now fielding repetitive slaps!
But as much is this is the case [for me] there is also the corollary to consider.
What happens when I stumble across a great book of short stories?
One that starts with a few ripping-terrific stories, and consistently stays that way!
Answer? →I fall in love all over again, with the act of reading!
I turn the last page and wish there were more, and I say to myself [as I get another coffee]… “Every segment of that adventure was time and energy well spent.”
That is exactly how I feel about the latest collection of short stories by Emma Donoghue.
Touchy Subjects, is the title, and they are!
As my reading partner put it, “Nothing seems too odd or too off limits for her to write about - AND rope us into. I guess once you have written about a woman who churns out rabbits, you can handle just about any topic.”
Emma’s former book of short stories, The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits, gets its title from the lead story, which is about a…. [go figure!] woman who feined giving birth to rabbits!
That book was excellent too, but this new one is even better.
Touchy Subjects [published in 2006 by Harcourt and now available in Virago tradepaper] is broken into five sections → Babies, Domesticity, Strangers, Desire, and Death, and the stories found in each of these categories stay very centered around these themes.
These are nineteen deeply rich tales of the joys and struggles [mostly struggles] of love relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual. And familial. And marital. Of friendships platonic and otherwise.
Of people reaching toward self-identity. Sometimes finding it, sometimes not.
I think that Emma Donoghue is "eccentric" in the best sense of the word.
Unconventional, slightly strange, and just off kilter enough to show her readers that they are the same!
That none of our lives are simple, or even normal. Her stories reveal a world full of ambiguities and contradictions, which is exactly the world any truly living person experiences.
She can take the most common of occurences [a woman looking at a clothes rack, a man writing phrases in the sand, someone looking absently and curiously through a woman's cosmetic case, a couple deciding upon the exact shade their house ought to be painted, the love of our pets, a 42-year old woman wanting to bear a child]…. she can take these things and show us that they are all touchy [as in sensitive, delicate] subjects.
I realize I have not really said anything specific about the writer’s style [per se] or her incomparable command of dialogue. I don’t want to.
I want you to READ HER.