So after The Odyssey, I wasn’t kidding about reading something less epic. Instead of launching into another novel, I’ve been reading short stories, selections from various books, dipping in and out as I please. It’s a bit of a refresher course: sometimes I just need to be reminded how stories work. I’ve been revisiting many of my stories and I sometimes get lost in them, wondering, does this need to be longer? Or shorter? Is this interesting? This is SO not interesting. How do I make it better? One evening I stood in front of my bookshelf and pulled some of my favourite collections off the shelf. Curiously, in the pile of books I had selected the authors were overwhelmingly female. I love the dudes of course (those classic C-men: Chekhov, Cheever, Carver), but when I think about the stories I am most influenced by, they happen to be written by women.
Sometimes I think it would be fun to make a mix tape-like list of some of my favourite stories. If you could amass a series of stories to give to a friend, what would you include? When I’m working on my own stories, I’m inspired by the following:
“Heaven” Mary Gaitskill (from “Bad Behaviour”)
“Terrific Mother” Lorrie Moore (from “Birds of America”)
“Sister Crazy” Emma Richler (from “Sister Crazy”)
“Diegesis (World of a Fiction)” Masha Tupitsyn (from “Beauty Talk & Monsters”) “When We Were Nearly Young” Mavis Gallant (from “In Transit”)**
“Bread” Rebecca Brown (from “What Keeps Me Here”)
“Nipple of Paradise” Lisa Moore (from “Degrees of Nakedness”)
These are from books that are sitting next to my computer – I’m leaving out a lot. But, still, seeing these stories in a list makes me realize that they all have the same kind of themes (motherhood, sisterhood, coming-of-age-girl-style). It’s no surprise that these are the ones I’m gravitating to most these days since many of my stories deal with the same themes.
** After writing the list above, I got to thinking about this particular Gallant story and why I liked it so much. At first it seems like a wisp of a story, a short collection of musings about the narrator’s life at a specific point in her life. It’s personal, but detached. But it’s the kind of story that sticks with you – maybe it’s the way it ends abruptly? The way the narrator and her “friends” seem so gripped with fear?
Wanting to find some analysis, I stumbled upon The Journal of the Short Story in English. It’s an academic journal that discusses the short story and it appears that they’ve put the full text of their back issues online. This appeals to my thwarted English major side. This essay, “Genre transgression and auto/biography in Mavis Gallant’s “When we were nearly young”", confirms why this story is so weighty. There’s a lot going on.