Friday, June 19, 2009

When short stories are successful.

So I'm not a big short story reader. I like my novels. I like being able to immerse myself in a character and go on a long-haul journey, not a little snapshot. I've rarely finished an entire short story collection, mostly because there's no incentive to. You finish one and it feels good enough and then you lose momentum because you had to do stuff, and there's no drive to pick it up again and finish where you left off. Even as a writer, the drive of a novel is so much more intense than to write a short story. I always want to stay with characters and their worlds longer.

Nonetheless, I have my own short story favorites. Most notably, Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! collection is beautiful to me, the opening story "Children of the Sea" my favorite of all time.

I picked up Unaccustomed Earth because it's Jhumpa Lahiri. She went to my alma mater (as did Danticat) and I just kept hearing about how amazing this collection was. This I didn't doubt, but I did doubt my ability to sustain interest to finish the whole thing. I have Interpreter of Maladies floating around somewhere - I've only gotten through the first few stories.

Nonetheless, when I couldn't decide what book to read next, I picked this up. I'm about halfway through right now, but I have to say, I am really really impressed. Her short stories don't feel like short stories. They feel like little snapshots of something fully formed. I really feel like I get to know her characters and become personally invested in them as people, and they don't feel temporary to me. I care about them, and am really sorry when the short story is over. In fact, every story feels like a mini-novella, and it just makes me sad that I don't get to continue the journey with them.

I'm one story away from being done with the first section of the book, and it seems like the next section are a collection of linked stories, which excites me.

Lahiri really impresses me with her prose and her storytelling abilities. I've been sitting here trying to dissect what makes her stories so successful because I am so impressed. :)

2 drops:

moonrat said...

i think what's amazing about that particular collection is she writes about upper middle class bengali immigrants in new england in every.single.story and STILL manages to hit every reader close to the bone at least once.

emily said...

I agree completely. I like reading short stories, but rarely finish a whole collection at once.

I love everything Jhumpa writes though, so I read Unaccustomed Earth all at once, and loved every story.

I think you'll love the second part. They are connected and wonderful and amazing.

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