Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Armchair BEA -- Novellas & Short Stories

On today's Armchair BEA topic of novellas & short stories: I am a lover of novels. As a reader, the long prose narrative is the form of fiction that has always most appealed to me. I would say I have probably read more plays, in fact, than short stories in my lifetime. I have certainly read some passionate defenses of the short story form, and I agree, in principle, that the short story has much to offer. Short stories are often very tight and well-written; they can be thought-provoking and hit you with a powerful and emotional punch at the end.

And yet . . . I have struggled with the short story form, I must admit. To me, they often seem to end abruptly, and I am left wanting more. Sometimes stories feel, somehow... unfinished. A great novel, by contrast, allows the opportunity for a reader to fully immerse themselves in the world that the author has created ... to leap into the minds and hearts of the characters and follow them on an emotional journey, to experience the richly imagined sights, sounds and smells of a place or time period different from one's own. A gifted novelist builds layers and reveals aspects of characterization or plot over time, and one of the joys of a reading a novel is uncovering those layers and aspects as the book progresses.

But let me give some love to the short stories or novellas that I've read recently and I have truly enjoyed. Karen Russell, first of all, is a master of the form and has received wide critical praise for her short stories. I first experienced her work by reading her novel Swamplandia! (read it, if you haven't--it's wonderful!), and because I simply felt I HAD to have more Russell, I tackled her short story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove and her novella Sleep Donation. I recommend them both; but honestly, I still love her best as a novelist. I also want to mention Junot Diaz, another darling of the literary fiction world, and deservedly so. In This is How You Lose Her,a collection of linked short stories mostly centered on the romantic experiences of his semi-autobiographical character Yunior, Diaz's prose just crackles, and his fresh and unique voice shines through the pages. Some of his stories simply startled me.

Some short story collections I would like to read include Emma Donoghue's Astray and Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. Any other recommendations? As a reader, how do you respond to short stories and novellas?

15 comments:

  1. I've always loved short stories since I was a child and curled up devouring Edgar Allan Poe's collected works. They definitely speak to a different reader's experience but when done well, they work -- at least for me. I guess that's why I've put up a short story reader's challenge to encourage others to add them to their reading plans and share their responses through reviews and blogging. It would be terrific if a short story resurgence were to happen given all the new publishing options available to writers. Traditional publishers shy away from them, but the ease of self-publishing really changes that. I'm going to add your suggestions to my list. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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    1. Ooh, a short story challenge?! That's an interesting idea. You know, I forgot all about short stories I read when I was younger, for school or just by choice ... Definitely I enjoyed some pieces by Poe, Shirley Jackson, Raymond Carver, and Flannery O'Connor. My daughter just had to read a few by Kurt Vonnegut for school, and I was surprised that she really liked them. Maybe I need to read them myself.

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    2. Hope you'll stop by and check it out. The challenge has a low threshold: 10 books/5 years. LOL Didn't want to scare anyone off. I'd love to have others come along on the journey. I'm glad you remembered those shorts. Love Flannery O'Conner. I'm thinking of making her work into a full project.

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    3. 10 books over 5 years... I think I can handle that! Low pressure--my kind of challenge! I will think about what I will read and stop by later. Thanks!

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  2. Great piece! I didn't love Swamplandia! I thought it was going in one direction, and then the boat happened, and well, I never quite got over that.
    I loved The Interpreter of Maladies. I also liked Olive Kitteridge, although I think I never actually read the last two stories. Finishing Olive Kitteridge and reading This Is How You Lose Her on high on my list for this year.

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    1. Ah, interesting....you know, I haven't yet found a fellow book lover who loved Swamplandia! quite as much as I did. I know another Swamplandia! Superfan must be out there, but I haven't found them yet! I didn't adore Olive Kitteredge, gotta say (forgot about that one!) ... appreciated it, but didn't love it.

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  3. Have you read any George Saunders?

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    1. No, I haven't, Rachel... would you recommend? Did you read Tenth of December?

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  4. You would probably enjoy Junot Diaz's first collection, Drown. It contains the first story that featured Yunior. If you like more interconnected works, you might also try Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists (another blogger reminded me of that one) or Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.

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    1. Oh, you know, I've never read Tom Rachman--thanks! And he has a new one coming out, I think (The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, I think it's called). I do want to read Drown...l think I even have it on my Kindle, conveniently! I did read Visit to the Goon Squad--LOVED it! Didn't even think of that for short stories, but you're right, it's another interconnected story type of book.

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    2. Another good interconnected stories kind of book is Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin

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  5. I am going to check out Karen Russell's work, thanks! As for short stories, I love them, but do also think they are not for everyone, it really does depend on your reading tastes. BUT :), being as you asked I would recommend you try some Alice Munro!

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    1. Alice Munro--good recommendation, thanks! I've never read her work, but I really should.

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  6. Great post! I'm adding Karens other books to my wishlist! Thanks for stopping by my blog :)

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    1. Thanks! Your blog is BEAUTIFUL, by the way!

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