Jumping From Story to Story

After I finished Ellen Klages’ collection of short stories I found myself in a mood for more. After all, reading more short stories was one of my goals for 2017, and one not too difficult to reach! (Not like reading from my own shelves, or reading from a set list of books, ahem…)

At first I felt a bit rusty, because I had been reading New-Yorker-style stories where you want to read carefully and hang on to every word: the epiphany is sometimes so subtle you don’t want to miss it. Nothing bad about that, except it’s maybe a bit too highbrow for me in this sunny, busy season. Ellen Klages reminded me that some stories can be lighter, quicker on their feet (mmh, you might object to stories having feet, but I own it) and don’t take themselves so seriously.

A few weeks ago I read the 2 stories that Danielle had sent me. The first one, “The Heaviest Dress”, by Mireille Silcoff was about a complicated Jewish family story and eccentric self-aggrandizing characters: I liked it but did not love it. I couldn’t quite relate to any of the characters, but it’s probably for the best!

The second one was a lot more arresting: “Circumstances of Hatred” by Laura Trunkey started in clichés and soon took a sharp turn towards daring. It started with a newlywed couple moving from one coast of Canada to the other because of an inheritance. The first sentence of the story is very original: “I had not forgotten about my grandfather’s refrigerator, but seventeen years of absence had diminished it”. The young man had a special connection with his oddball of a grandfather and upon his death he has been bequeathed a house with a locked fridge in it, that never should go on defrost. The young woman is unhappy about the move, there is bickering and low-grade dissatisfaction in the air. Can you imagine what will come next? Can you imagine what is kept in the fridge? I bet you won’t ever guess, because at each twist and turn of the story I kept muttering: no, she can’t possibly!

At the kids library I stocked up on short stories (translated in French but it’s better than nothing): two stories by Truman Capote, “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, and “Miriam”. Both are classics, and they didn’t disappoint (although I found it weird to put the two of them together for a teen edition – and the translator did a literal translation of Thanksgiving with “day of the giving of thanks” which was awkward). Then I turned to the master of entertaining and thrilling stories, Stephen King. I grabbed a copy that was titled Mist, except that the French editor must have pulled a trick because the short story Mist (that people online rave about) was not listed inside! Talk about disappointment!

I understood later on that the original collection, Skeleton Crew, was so thick that it was not publishable as such in France, and the publisher just cut the collection in two volumes (without saying so!). It didn’t really matter because the range of stories and tones is quite wide. Some are pure horror, some fantasy, some thrillers, even a page of poetry! I didn’t relate to all of them, obviously. Well, it’s hard to relate to a story about a surgeon stranded on a desert island who decides to eat himself, right? … Right? The one I loved best was the one with the gentlest ghosts, “The Reach”. It’s set on a small Maine Island. An old resident, Stella Flanders, has never set foot on the continent, she has never seen the point of doing so, until she is dying from cancer and now that the reach is frozen she’s tempted to go see on the other side. The small-town villagers and gossips are all well portrayed and the whole close-knit community comes alive. The story was sensitive and gentle and well deserved the prize it got in… 1982. Another non-horror story was quite fun: the  “Word Processor of the Gods“. Well, it wouldn’t speak to Millenials I guess, but I do remember word processors (although I never had one, I had a mechanical typewriter that felt like heavy lifting for fingers). I love Stephen King ever since I tried 11/22/63 last year, but I will decidedly stay away from his goriest stories, now that I know that he pulls no punches.

Last, I started (yet) another short story collection by Spanish writer Javier Marias, While the Women are Sleeping. It is a collection taken from our own shelves for 2017 (more brownie points to me!). I find it weirdly satisfying to be able to finish one story in one setting: it’s even better than crossing stuff in my checklist, as I am quite goal-oriented these days with the packing and moving!

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