Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mothers And Sons

I hate to make such a seemingly jaded comment about literature, but I feel that I have learned to distrust the genre of short story.
What I mean is that too often I am disappointed with short story collections. So I’ve given some thought as to what might be the reason for this reverse predilection of mine.
Most often it is because the short stories out there seem too weird. They seem to be a dumping ground where authors can offload all of the eccentricities they’ve accumulated through the years. They can cathartically stow these away in a short story far easier than in a novel.
I’ve read some short stories by authors whom I admire for their novels [I won’t name names] and they just really lose me when it comes to their “stories”.
On the other hand, there are other writers that are so good in this genre [like Alice Munro] that you wish they would write novels about their stories.
Here’s how I put it 105 weeks ago, in a related blog-posting: 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!

Without belaboring the point, I think you get what I mean, even if you disagree with the whole argument itself. This topic is very subjective, and I am only speaking of personal opinion here.
Having said all of this, let me now tell you of a bunch I thoroughly enjoyed.
Mothers And Sons, by Colm Toibin.
This is a collection that definitely overcomes my reverse predilection.
Having read and enjoyed many of his novels, I turned to Toibin’s [2006] book of short stories, and was NOT disappointed.
For a better synopsis than I could ever provide, click HERE.
I agree with how one reviewer put it: Toibin's even, quiet writing seems calculated not to draw attention to itself: it thrives on inconsequence and randomness, is never sentimental, and only incidentally dramatic. When moments of intensity or crisis occur - and there are many here - they are all the more effective, or chilling, for the unchanged tone.

Other short-story books I have loved:
Basically anything by Alice Munro
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
A Thirsty Evil by Gore Vidal
Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue



Anonymous said...

I agree - so often with short stories, one is really good and the rest are....not. Albums are like that too. Maybe one day there will be a service like Itunes for short stories!

Beth said...

The problem with a great short story is that I always want more – more of the characters, their stories…
I like to take a book of short stories to places I know I’ll have to wait. Currently carrying around Diane Schoemperlen’s Red Plaid Shirt.
I'll check out Mothers and Sons (a familiar theme in my life).
But I do prefer novels.

Cipriano said...

Great idea, rhapsodyinbooks.... pick and choose.
Laissez faire.
Let the choice govern the market.
Never mind. I don't know what I am talking about. I just drank ten beer.

I agree with you Beth. Take the short stories to the doctor's office. It's the perfect thing, somehow. I read a lot of the Toibin stuff while waiting to see a doctor about my back problems!

Stefanie said...

I know what you mean about short stories. they are not my genre of choice. I think they must be much harder to write than a novel. short stories don't forgive bad writing. A novel that has patches of bad writing is easy to forgive because there is so much over all. But short story, a few bad sentences and it's all over.

Jeane said...

I have a hard time appreciating short stories. I always want to know more- but the story's already over. Leaves me hanging.