Posted tagged ‘short story collections’

in short

November 5, 2019

So I’m working my way through a collection of short stories called Male of the Species by Alex Mindt. There’s a Pushcart Prize winner among them, and most have already been published in top-tier journals. And each story I’ve read has been well told, but I just can’t get excited about it.

There have been many books I’ve read where I can barely wait to pick them up again to see what comes next: plot, character development, tone, theme. Even books I’ve read more than once will do this to me. (Maybe the fact that I want to read them more than once is why I know I want to get back to them. Did that make sense?)

But short story collections just don’t do this for me. I think I’ve mention before that I have unfinished collections by Grace Paley and Raymond Carver on my shelf. This Mindt collection has kindled the same “fire” in me.

I’ve tried to understand what it is about myself that consistently causes this, and I think I’ve figured it out. A short story is self contained. You consume it wholly in one reading. A novel is more of a commitment, taking generally more than one reading. So while a short story may have a compelling plot or character development, when you’ve read it, you’re done. And that’s fine. But a novel demands more visits, and if it’s done well, I grow eager for those visits. (I’ve read plenty of novels that I dreaded getting back to and wished they would just end.)

So I’m reading pretty much one story a night of the Mindt collection, and while I’m immersed in it, I’m satisfied. But because each story ends, I’m not driven to see what comes next.

short story collections

August 15, 2019

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.