My favourite form, my preferred mode of writing, the highlight of my dream of a mediocre life – is the short story. I can understand why people mightn’t adore poetry, but the short story, there’s no excuse, why you can read one in twenty minutes, a novel on your lunch break! And there’s every kind imaginable, from horror to dirty realist, minimalist, flash, classic, romance, poetic – the list goes on.
Pt. I – The Absolute Favourites
Those which have stuck with me over the years, stories and authors I come back to with reverence, whose words linger on my skin long after dusk.
“She did not know; she could not think; she knew only that she did not want to go home, she wanted to sit here on the edge of the grave, never catching any more buses, crossing streets, walking on icy footpaths, turning mattresses, trying to reach jam from the top shelf of the cupboard, filling coal buckets, getting in and out of the bath.”
from ‘The Bath’ published in You Are Now Entering the Human Heart: Stories
I read ‘The Bath’ by Janet Frame in high school and not a year has gone by where I haven’t thought of it or the author herself. A day in the life of an elderly woman who lives alone, it isn’t a happy story but this is Frame’s forte: a depressive look at the life of the lonely people.
Frame is New Zealand born, and if you haven’t heard of her – she had an interesting life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and she was nearly given a lobotomy until the surgeon due to operate recognized her name and was like, oh hey you’re that writer who just won an award in the paper. Her writing is lyrical and soulful and at times it makes no sense. She plays with language, colour and perception. Lots of her works have themes not too dissimilar her own experiences in life. Others I adore are: ‘The Reservoir’ and ‘You Are Now Entering the Human Heart’.
“Her eyes faced the lighted exit. I saw her fear. The exit light blinked, hooded. The children, none of whom had ever touched a live snake, were sitting hushed, waiting for the drama to begin…”
from ‘You Are Now Entering the Human Heart’
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Raymond Carver, I discovered in my first year of Uni in an American Literature, a class I nearly didn’t take because I was an angry little punk back then, but man, I did and I can’t imagine my life without it. We briefly studied ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’ and it probably remains one of my top favourite stories of. all. time.
“In the kitchen I find a note from him signed “Love.” I sit in the breakfast nook in the sunlight and drink coffee and make a coffee ring on the note. The telephone has stopped ringing, that’s something.”
It’s about an everyday family in a small town. The husband goes on a hunting trip and they find a dead girl floating in the river. I can’t explain the feelings it gives you. And there’s also a movie adaptation of this particular story – Jindabyne – I thought it was a’ight eh…
Carver is a minimalist writer with a focus on the ordinary day to day lives of the working class. Now, there wasn’t a particular quote that ensnared me, in fact I don’t find Carver as quotable as other writers, but merely a feeling. I had never read anything like it. His way of creating lasting images, the ordinary moments of ordinary lives, everyday events with a melancholic twist that tugs away at you in the early hours. Not creepy like a Shirley Jackson story, it’s not even unease, it’s a mere feeling; the exhaustion that begins to settle with the twilight.
“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
from ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’
I also often find myself thinking about: ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ and ‘The Bath’ – yes, another melancholic story with a bath in it. This could be a theme of mine… FUN FACT: Carver greatly admired Chekhov and Murakami used to be friends with Carver.
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“The slowness of Sundays. Something about the glare, the smell of warm grass, the church service, the relatives visiting in nice clothes. The whole day kind of lasts forever.”
from, ‘Human Moments in World War III’ published in The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories
Another discovery thanks to that first year paper and if there could be a perfect man, he would be a pretty even mix of Greg Graffin and Don DeLillo. A punk rock veteran, paleontologist and post modern novelist – how could you go wrong?
“She knew there was someone else in the room. There was no outright noise, just an intimation behind her, a faint displacement of air.”
DeLillo writes sparingly much like Carver, but there’s a lyricism to his works, he’s more quotable and less blunt, I find. I’ll be honest and confess that on the whole I prefer DeLillo’s novels to his short stories: (White Noise, Mao II, The Body Artist – being my faves), however, his stories are probably a great place to start and get a feel for his work as they follow much the same themes of his novels. He focuses on post-modernist themes like mass media, rampant consumerism and the idea of violence generating a sense of rebirth. Stories I have enjoyed more than once are: Baader-Meinhof and Midnight in Dostoevsky.
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FUN FACT: you can probably read a good portion of the stories mentioned and others at the new yorker -> just search the title/writer!
For now my chickens,
Do svidaniya xx