May is short story month. I have no idea who decides matters like this, but why not? Short stories, please take a bow, and let me say a few things in your favor. — One often hears that people prefer reading novels, that short story collections don’t sell, that publishers therefore hesitate to take the risk. All this may be true. In a novel, we enter for the long, deep involvement and we feel the reward of hours invested. Each story in a collection, on the other hand, takes new effort to discover what’s going on and who’s in it. Perhaps it feels like a fragment rather than a whole, perhaps it feels unresolved. Still, a good short story can carry weight out of proportion to its size. When I look back at what’s stuck with me over decades of reading, there are short stories in the mix for sure, from “Leiningen versus the Ants” or “The Cask of Amontillado” from my high school days, Flannery O’Connor’s stories, and in the last years, “Stolen” in friend Sheila McClarty’s High Speed Crow, the stories in Emma Donaghue’s Astray (which I preferred to her novel Room), and the wonderful stories of Alexander MacLeod in Light Lifting, which I noted in my reading diary that I loved for their “realizations,” whatever that means. I think of a short story as “slow reading” in that when I’m done I often find myself paging back or through it again, or even re-reading. Short fiction provokes a kind of post-reading thoughtfulness, somewhat different than the in-the-midst-of thinking of the novel. I’m not sure if that’s a fair generalization but I’m trying to articulate something of effect and value.
It’s interesting to note that Lydia Davis, newly announced winner of the 2013 Man Booker prize mostly writes short stories (one novel versus seven story collections.) Some of her stories, in fact, are extremely short. “The material determines the length,” she says. (She’s a writer whose work I want to explore further and learn as much as I can from.) But whatever the length, perhaps it’s simply as Richard Ford says, “reaching people,” which sounds a bit corny on the surface, but not if one thinks of the stretch of words through story from one mind to another’s.
I hope you don’t mind if I use the fact of short story month to update on what I’ve been up to. Back in February I complained about being in something of a writing slog but am happy to report the novel project has gone through another revision and it got easier and it’s now more ready than it was before. Which is, of course, the purpose of revision! I’ve also been quite busy this spring with a number of events involving my collection, What You Get at Home, including a couple of book clubs, a public reading and Q & A in Winkler with Sue Sorensen (author of A Large Harmonium) in Winkler, Manitoba, and a speaking/reading event in Carman, Manitoba. All these groups and audiences were so wonderfully attentive and interactive; I have not yet gotten over the feeling of a great kindness being extended to me when people engage with my work. Well, it is a kindness, really; it’s the reach from the other end. This week I’m involved in the Fictionistas tour, put on annually by a number of the smaller presses in Canada, though called FictionKNITstas this year, each of us paired with a knitter who created something our book evoked for them. Calgary tomorrow, then Winnipeg and Toronto. Mid-June I’m reading in Dauphin, Manitoba. I think that’s it for a while and the lovely summer awaits beyond. Though there’s still time in May for all of us to celebrate by reading a short story or two. If it’s Lydia Davis it may only take a few minutes (see link above). Son P. (speaking of kindness, double that when it’s one of your children!) told me that mine fit nicely into one morning commute to his work!
Do you have a favorite short story?