I 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.
After 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.
Alistair 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.