Short stories, take a bow

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. Continue reading

Oddity, muddiness: Emma Donoghue’s “Astray”

“I love the oddity of historical incidence, the ethical muddiness,” Emma Donoghue (of Room fame) has said, and it’s oddity and muddiness she digs into in her latest book, Astray, a collection of 14 stories set in places as various as London, the Yukon, and Louisiana, in years ranging from 1639 to 1967.

There’s a keeper’s persistent chatter to his elephant Jumbo in “Man and Boy,” and the voice of Nigger Brown as the slave conspires to murder his master and run off with his wife in “Last Supper at Brown’s.” There’s a series of letters to the New York Children’s Aid Society by the birth mother and adoptive father of Lily May with their competing claims upon the child (“an epistolary duet,” Donoghue calls it) in “The Gift.” In “Daddy’s Girl,” a young woman has just discovered, upon his death, that her father was actually female. Continue reading