quelle surprise! While reading my first collection for the short story challenge, it appears I may be developing an affinity for this form after all.
I’ve never warmed to this genre before, although heaven knows I’ve tried, with volumes of stories by celebrated writers such as John Cheever, Joyce Carol Oates, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’connor. Yet I was never comfortable with these books, and a sense of uneasiness pervaded our relationship, rising from a reticence to give my heart to the characters, a reluctance to lose myself in the story, knowing as I did that it would end all too quickly.
You see, I’m drawn to the long term tale, the weighty novels peopled with characters that live through decades, stories that span generations. Big books that I can read for days at a time.
And therein lay the root of my difficulty with the short story-I was trying to shape it into something it was not, and coming to the relationship as I would to one with a novel. It seems one must connect with the short story on entirely different terms.
Short stories, you see, cannot be read in fits and starts as a novel can. None of this reading a page or two whilst eating cereal at breakfast, or finishing up a chapter at bedtime. Nor can you carry them around in hopes of getting a bit of reading done on line at the department of motor vehicles.
A short story must be read in one complete sitting, devoured completely all at one time. After reading the last word, you mustn’t be greedy and go right on to the next-no, no…put the book aside and give the story some time to digest in your mind. As Mavis Gallant intstructed, “stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.”
That’s the way I’ve been reading Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Each afternoon, after coming home from work, I make myself a hot cup of Tazo Refresh tea, put on my comfy clothes, and pile into my favorite chair. Feet up, the tea’s fragrant minty aroma wakening my senses, I read one story. No, I savor one story, sometimes even reading bits aloud to my two little dogs who enjoy nestling at my side- Although Molly in particular does look at me very strangely when I read aloud. (smiles)
But in this way I’ve come to relish these stories, to appreciate them individually as the small, magical bits of storytelling they truly are.
I’m pleasantly surprised.