short story collections

There’s something about reading short story collections that just doesn’t work for me.

I’m currently halfway through Denis Johnson’s collection Jesus’ Son, and I’m not enjoying it. Johnson is pretty much known for this particular work, and it received praise from high quarters. I acknowledge that I’m probably missing something, that my poor mind isn’t catching some nuance or insight, and that’s fine. Everyone has their interests, and his subject/style apparently isn’t for me.

But I wonder if I tried one of his novels I might feel differently. Sure, the characters in his short stories are mostly “low lifes,” living on the edge of society and not making very bright decisions (though I don’t have trouble with those same kinds of characters in Willy Vlautin’s novels), but it’s hard (for me) to build up any kind of interest or investment in these characters before the story is finished and it’s on to the next one. And I think that’s due to the short story-nature of the collection. Any one of the stories, read in isolation, might stand better for me, but grouped as they are, something happens or doesn’t happen.

Sitting abandoned on my reading shelf is a collection of Raymond Carver short stories. I could only get about halfway through it before I had to set it aside. (Johnson’s characters are a lot like Carver’s.) And before that I had to set aside a collection of Grace Paley’s short stories. And at my cabin I have a collection of Dorothy Parker’s works that I haven’t been able to soldier my way through.

There seems to be a pattern here.

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3 Comments on “short story collections”


  1. I think your problem is Denis Johnson, but that might just be me.

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    Indy – I’m not even sure why Johnson was on my list to read.

  3. pete29anderson Says:

    Stuart Dybek, William Trevor, Eudora Welty. (I recently mentioned my admiration for Welty to my mom, who said she hadn’t heard of the author. Which surprised me – I thought Welty was a fairly big name back in her day.)


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