While I’ve always loved short stories, I know there are some people who are hesitant to try them out. One of the major complaints I’ve heard over the years is that short stories are, well, just too short. You start getting interested in a set of characters and plotlines, the argument goes, and then everything seems to end abruptly and doesn’t resolve.
While it is true that short story writers have less time to get their characters and ideas across, I’ve always found that good story collections have a consistent mood and style that makes up for the choppiness the reader might feel.
I was reminded of this while reading three recent collections. While the tones are very different, each collection has a distinct feel. This unifies all the different characters and situations making the book seem like one long work where the characters and situations just happen to change. Read on to find out more.
You Want More by George Singleton
In addition to an outstanding cover, this collection is chock full of quirky characters, biting satire and absurd situations. While the stories are taken from the author’s 20+ year career, they are all grounded in the same tragicomic milieu. Set almost exclusively in rural South Carolina, the characters, and their dogs, are definitely unique. While hard to choose, I would have to say my favorite is “This Itches, Y’All” the story of a man haunted by his childhood staring role in an educational film about head lice, and the catchphrase that follows him to the grave.
Bluebeard’s First Wife by Ha Seong-nan
A sense of fear, mystery and unease permeates all of the stories in this excellent collection. While the characters are diverse (a young mother coping with the loss of her child, a policeman assigned to a rural posting, a couple distressed by noisy downstairs neighbors) there is always a sense of something disturbing and possibly violent, just beneath the surface. Ha’s use of simple and elegant language adds to this sense of a normalcy that isn’t quite right. “The Dress Shirt”, the story of a woman whose husband goes inexplicably missing, is a particular standout.
The Low Desert by Tod Goldberg
All of the characters in this gritty and darkly funny collection have hit rock bottom or are headed that way. Set in the desert lands of California, mostly in and around Palm Springs, each seems trapped in a noir film, sans the traditional ‘big city.’ A grifter with a fondness for karaoke and a bullet hole in his foot tries to dispose of a body; a professor of hydrology develops a super efficient sprinkler system and promptly takes to marijuana cultivation; a waitress hops from town to town trying to escape the inexplicable loss of her daughter. All told in a snarky and biting tone.
So even if you are short story averse, why not give one of these collections a try? You will find them well worth your limited reading time.