Short Stories

Book Review of Elevation

elevationStephen King’s latest novella, Elevation is a short read or short listen if like me, you’re a fan of audio books.

It’s a touching rather than scary story of a strange affliction – and how it works to actually bring people together.

Scott is a fairly lonely man living in a small town after the break-down of his marriage.  Then he notices something strange – he’s losing weight.  But only on the scales – his large frame remains unchanged.  And even more puzzling – is that no matter what Scott carries on the scale, his weight remains the same as it does when carrying nothing.

But with this lightness also seems to come a lightness of being.  Although concerned about what happens when the scales hit zero, he still takes the time to befriend a gay couple who move into the town and open a restaurant, supporting the two women to be accepted amongst the townsfolk who have fairly traditional views.  His actions change their lives and secure their future.

It’s a beautiful little story and on audio comes with an even shorter story about the power of animals to heal.  Worth a look.


Book Review of Like a House on Fire

like a house on fireI should read more short stories… because when they are done well, they are so infinitely beautiful.

To me, one of the masters of the short story is Raymond Carver, whose beautiful tiny portraits of the disconnection of modern life are so gut-wrenchingly quiet but realistic that they make your heart bleed.  Cate Kennedy’s Australian series of Short Stories, Like a House on Fire, reminds me very much of that deep insight.  It too is a celebration of the triumph and tragedy of everyday life, reflecting how we all have a story and that each life and each moment is of itself, a thing of beauty.

Stand out for me were Laminex and Mirrors, which while cataloguing the experiences of a young woman working as a cleaner in preparation for a trip overseas, is really about the inescapability and inevitability of kindness growing in our hearts.  Seventy-Two Derwents masterfully uses a child narrator to tell a story that is anything but childish in nature. And while nothing much occurs in Waiting, it is a powerful observation of just that – what the mind does while sitting and waiting for news.

It’s clear that Kennedy is more comfortable writing from a female perspective, but there are male voices here too.

I also saw her recently at the Melbourne Writers Festival and had a brilliant time at her free talk on the Anatomy of a Short Story – insightful, fun and relevant.  I have ordered in some more of her work to read.

Book Review of Men Without Women

men without womenAfter a hectic week, it was beautiful to spend a few quiet moment each night with the prose of Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors.  Short stories is such a fitting way to experience his odd stories of longing and love.

All of these stories explore – oddly enough – Men Without Women.  Some have loved and lost, others have chosen solitude. Some wonder about what the future brings and one or two are even hopeful.  But all have the emotional depth and clear, crisp lyricism readers have come to expect.  A standout for me was ‘Gregor Samsa in Love’ which imagines the famous character from Kafka reawakening in his old human body which feels soft, alien and vulnerable.  ‘Kino’ touches on the supernatural world that often runs through Murakami’s writing. ‘Scheherezade’ explores the power of storytelling and the capacity of words to create something like love.

Another refined and masterful collection by someone who feels full of quiet but real passion.  This is how I would write if I could.

Exhausted Book Review of Island

9780099422327Alistair McLeod’s collection of short stories Island begins well – the opening two stories, The Boat and The Vastness of the Dark capture McLeod’s key concerns beautifully.

The whole collection is centred around the geography and people of Nova Scotia, the isolation of such remote areas and in many stories, the lack of connection young people feel to the traditional lifestyles.  This collection encompasses stories written across the broad span of McLeod’s career – so naturally there are some shifts in focus and conception.

After that promising beginning – you can read The Boat here for example – I got lost in the stories in the middle of the collection.  The yearning of the characters got lost amongst far too much detail and I found it very difficult to stay engaged – as many VCE students may also find (Island is on the text list for 2017).  While The Road to Rankin’s Point is a poignant moment in the middle, I had difficulty reading the descriptions of animal slaughter in Second Spring, amongst a couple of stories that suddenly had a focus on farming that I didn’t see elsewhere in the collection.

The collection ends will with the eponymous Island looking at how easy it is to give your life to the area and wonder where it went, but I was pretty exhausted by that point.  This would be one more to pick and choose from than to try to read as a whole collection.


Interpreter of Maladies

This is a beautiful collection of short stories by Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri, exploring the disconnection and sense of alienation found by Indian people who leave their own culture for America.  Although if you ask me, only some of the stories are specifically Indian in their concern, some such as A Temporary Matter and Sexy are quite universal in nature.  Other clearly show the clash of cultural beliefs.

Each story is beautiful written  and each episode vividly captured.  Its a wonderful read, worthy of the Pulitzer in 2000.

Some of the highlights include The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, which concerns the prejudices and small-mindedness of people closely related to a woman with what seems to be a form of epilepsy, as well as the very moving When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine, which shows a child’s growing understanding of the political situation in Pakistan due to her affection for a regular houseguest.  The eponymous Interpreter of Maladies is brilliant – a tour guide who works for several days a week as an interpreter for a doctor to allow him to better diagnose his clients who weak different dialects, has trouble interpreting the actions of an attractive female customer who appears bored with her family situation.  Sheer brilliance.

The Boat

After two ‘false starts’ (when I start a book I decide not to continue reading), I am finally attending to a book that has deserved my attention for quite some time.  Not only does Nam Le’s The Boat come with heavy praise (and this time deservedly), but also was a loan from a friend.  His recent hospital trip made me a little sentimental.  Pulled The Boat out in short order and found myself pretty spellbound, despite the lateness of the term.

The short stories in this collection really are wonderful.  They each explore journeys or a sense of being an outsider.  Tehran Calling stands out as a Western woman visits a friend in Iran and is confronted by the real danger of their politics.  Cartagena is the very moving story of a young assassin called upon to kill his mentor.  But most powerful are the two stories that ‘bookend’ this collection, both touching on Le’s Vietnamese heritage.  The first of these appears to be somewhat autobiographical. A young writer, struggling for what to write, attempts to write the story of his father’s experiences in Vietnam.  The final story explores the plight of boat people left waiting in the water for some country to claim them.  Perfectly timed given the government’s latest ridiculous attempts to avoid taking any kind of responsibility for this issue.

A must-read.

After the Quake

An exquisite set of short stories from the always beautiful Haruki Murakami.  Each explores the aftermath of the earthquke in Kobe on a variety of characters, each  of whom are somehow living a life that is left of centre. Their lives are disjointed from others.  The unreal comes calling.  So does strange understanding.  Hard to explain unless you have read him yourself.

This is my favourite collection of stories so far, culminating in the glorious ‘Honey Pie’, about a short story writer who can only be fashioned after Murakami himself, given what I have read about his writing process.  Also notable are ‘Super Frog Saves Tokyo’ – who doesn’t love a bit of magical realism.  ‘Landscape with Flatiron’ ends powerfully as well.

Murakami is often at his best in his short stories, which loan themselves so beautifully to his thought-provokingly abrupt style.