Summer of Shorts: Literary Shorts

My emotional brain compels me to make puns about featuring short fiction for a month but my logical brain encourages against bad puns on my blog.  Bad puns anywhere, in fact.

I took time off work this month to take my son to a robotics camp an hour away and I should really be writing, and I am pushing myself on some projects, but reading while knitting/crafting/playing mindless games has great appeal to me, so also happens more than it really should.  So in reading there is progress.  I’m sure I’ve talked before about that being so much easier on the emotions.

I also want to give myself kudos for keeping up writing more this summer, as usually my summer is too busy to feel like I have the brain space to create and move forward with my writing.  I’m trying to do that this summer and so far I have felt that success has been limited.  A lot of anxiety about getting myself back in the groove and not taking the fact that no one I have submitted anything to has gotten back to me in MONTHS to mean anything about pressing on with this…I can’t let that spirit me away from creation.  I won’t be able to come up with new and exciting things without turning on the faucet on a regular basis. It’s been a tad brutal on the feels, really.

Having reading projects for my blog can save my neurotic writerly soul.

For these two books I chose to review more literary and less supernatural/genre/magical realism type of stories.  Feeling that I was sometimes on the edge of grasping the stories was getting tiring.  I wanted a literary break from all the weird magical stuff I can get my readerly self into.

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Runaway, Alice Munro

A collection of short fictions featuring more mundane topics of lifespan issues and relationships, mostly love, all set in Canada.

I have wanted to read Alice Munro forever but for some reason I was concerned it would not be as arresting as it ended up being.  I was wading around for a few weeks in more diverting stories and I wasn’t sure how much magic she could make out of the mundane.  And I mean, like, literary magic:  beautiful writings, astute observations on the world, interesting turnout of plots.  I don’t mean secret powers, fantasy worlds and supernatural happenings that characters take for granted.  I got the audio of the book, even though I have had a hardcover copy for years, as an assist with this if needed.

Runaway, the title story, absolutely reeled me in.  The moody husband and the disappearing goat and the wife who isn’t sure how much more she can take.  I wanted more of Munro’s economical writing for complex human stories after that.  She can be both logical and unexpected at the same time, and I really admire that level of artistry.  I have seen criticism that she is too neat, but first of all I needed some neatness over the way that the stories in the previous post had ended, but I also felt that not everything was all tied up at the end.  One character doesn’t understand an unexpected estrangement, another doesn’t really say why she doesn’t want to marry a particular boy who has taken her into his family.

I liked that Munro mostly wrote about intelligent women that didn’t easily fit in anywhere, ones who were made unpopular by following their passions and being who they were, but who also were capable of falling in love with men.  They tried not to sell out and tried to be who they were.  I can get behind that, even though my own environment was more forgiving/accepting of my weird interests and intense personality.  There were two women, one in the first and one in the last stories that were more conforming in their relationships to men, a little more frivolous and selfish, but they stood out to me against the backdrop of the other intellectual and at times frumpy women.  I ate these stories up and admired them.  Wanting to capture her ability to make unexpected happenings still in logical stories.  I’m reading with a writerly eye here.

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Memory Wall, Anthony Doerr

A collection of stories all with the common thread of memory:  losing memories, keeping them, stringing threads of memories between generations to pull back people we have lost.

My writerly reading craves Anthony Doerr.  After I read All the Light You Cannot See I began immediately collecting his other works, and I have reviewed his other collection of shorts, The Shell Collector, on here.  He never disappoints with his beautiful writing, metaphors with apt and vivid words, his knowledge of natural history and then his juxtaposition of all of it.  The touch of luminosity he adds to the every day stories. His knowledge of different times and lands and people.  I admit I had stalled out after the first story, Memory Wall, which was beautiful and complex, that I read because I want to write like him, but my brain wasn’t going along with it.  I picked it back up as a part of my July of shorts, knowing I could trust that he would caress me with literary words.

I have to say that the last story, Afterworld, blew me away.  I couldn’t get the book away from my face. An epileptic orphan who escapes the Holocaust is dying at the end of her life under the ministrations of an adult grandson.  The epilepsy, and the other girls int he orphanage and the encroaching doom of the camps and then her being saved (sorry not sorry spoiler on that), her survivor’s guilt, all gorgeously layered and slipping between times to put this narrative together.  Just wow.  I can’t say enough and it’s difficult to even describe the magic in this story.  I have always loved his writing and he continues to surprise me.

Interesting that for weeks I was dabbling in distraction and now I wanted the comfort of something literary.  Something that enchanted regular days by seeing them through a writer’s different set of eyes.

Next week is the last week of shorts posts!  Stay tuned!

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