Friday, October 4, 2013

Short Story Collections That Don’t Suck


I promise that this is the last of these lists for a long time.  If you’re looking to get in to reading short story collections or composite novels, here are a few to get you started.  I tried to pick collections about a variety of subjects.  There should hopefully be something here that appeals to everybody.  Once again, I stole the book summaries from Goodreads and Wikipedia.  Also, I'm done fighting with Blogger to get the formatting correct on these posts.  Sorry you have to look at some crappy formatting.

 

In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway



When In Our Time was published in 1925, it was praised by Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald for its simple and precise use of language to convey a wide range of complex emotions, and it earned Hemingway a place beside Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein among the most promising American writers of that period. In Our Time contains several early Hemingway classics, including the famous Nick Adams stories "Indian Camp," "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," "The Three Day Blow," and "The Battler," and introduces readers to the hallmarks of the Hemingway style: a lean, tough prose -- enlivened by an ear for the colloquial and an eye for the realistic that suggests, through the simplest of statements, a sense of moral value and a clarity of heart.

Now recognized as one of the most original short story collections in twentieth-century literature, In Our Time provides a key to Hemingway's later works.



Why I don’t think it sucks: I know that this one was on last week’s list, but it needs to be on this week’s too.  Hemingway can say a lot with very few words.


Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
Nine Stories is a collection of short stories by American fiction writer J. D. Salinger released in May 1953. It includes two of his most famous short stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor.”
 
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is an enigmatic examination of a young married couple, Muriel and Seymour Glass, while on vacation in Florida.  “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is widely considered to be one of the finest literary pieces to result from World War II.  It’s about an orphaned child, Esmé, who meets an American soldier in Devon, England in 1944.

Why I don’t think it sucks: Amazing child characters.  If you’re a writer who wants to write realistic child characters, you need to read this book.  Actually, everyone needs to read this book.  It’s one of the best books in the history of books.
 

 

The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien



They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.



Why I don’t think it sucks: Realism.
 
 
Interpreter of MaladiesJhumpa Lahiri
 


Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.  “I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.”
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family.

Why I don’t think it sucks: The complicated relationships between the characters.
 
 

Things We Didn’t See Coming – Steven Amsterdam
 

It’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions.
The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain landscape. By turns led by love, larceny, and a new sexual order, he must avoid capture and imprisonment, starvation, pandemic, and some particularly bad weather.
In Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam links together nine luminous narratives through the mind of one peripatetic and resourceful wanderer who always has one eye on the exit door and the other on a future that shifts more drastically and more often than anyone would like to imagine.
Why I don’t think it sucks: For some reason, no one I’ve talked to has heard of this book.  I guess it got lost in the flood of recent dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature.  The structure of this composite novel is interesting.  Each short story features the same narrator at a different stage of his life (from teenager to old person).  This book is worth reading for the structure.


 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 


 
 

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