Appreciating short stories

I haven’t forayed into short stories properly. Sometimes I want to, a brief intro to the short story in Year 8 with Edgar Allan Poe as our Main Man really hooked me into the mystical allure of The Short Story.

Roald Dahl’s Skins and J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories are the only two recent short story collections I’ve read. One of them I loved, the other bored me.

Dahl’s writing is dark. Only one of Salinger’s stories – the first one – had me enthralled. The way Salinger writes dialogue is incredible. I remember something about short stories, how they begin in the mix of things. Salinger begins his stories – or at least introduces his characters – mid-conversation. Yet in that first story he did something spectacular. For the most part it was normal, there were the words and the sentences strung along by some dialogue and some description. But there was action in every sentence, particularly towards the end. Simple actions like “he moved a step forward and picked up the book”, something like that. And somehow that made the shocking ending that much more shocking.

It was incredible, that first story about banana fish. The Glass family with all their mental problems and their skeletons and their existential crises will always have a place in my heart. However I didn’t understand the other eight stories, there was probably context I was missing.

With Dahl, he wrote about some epic dark explorations of the human condition. A man with a prize-worthy tattoo on his back. The lamb to the slaughter. A couple who were lodging with another couple.

This is the thing about short stories that make me want to read them. They are more often than not about a particular time and place. And they stay in that moment, and they explore that moment and that moment grows like a drop of water on fabric. How such small moments in lives and in history can somehow depict and wrestle with the great contentions of our times and of our hearts is extraordinary.

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