I’m starting to like short stories more and more. They are very refreshing, especially after a big book. However, I have never read a collection like this one. The stories are so short that I found myself wondering how the writers managed to express an idea in so very few words. And because the stories are so short, some of them only half a page or even less, the connection with the reader is made quickly, with detailed paragraphs which drew me in from the very first words.
In Heartland, by Daphne Beal, there’s a striking paragraph with an amazing contrast:
“In New Orleans, the air has body it’s so thick. It’s only March, but as we ride from the airport past houses that look like someone’s taken a baseball bat to them, trees burst with white and pink blossoms, unabashed, and strange beauty is everywhere.”
Little Brother, by Bruce Holland Rogers, is a story about a boy getting a little brother as a Christmas present. But as innocent as that may sound, it really wasn’t, and as the story progressed I had the feeling that something was wrong. Not until the last sentence did I get to find out what it was and I have to admit, that was unexpected and unsettling. This was my favorite story.
Currents, by Hannah Bottomy Voskuil, is an unusual story in the way it’s told – like playing a video of a wave in reverse – I read it once and then again, backwards. I wonder if the author wrote it using the normal sequence of events and then just rewrote it starting with the end.
Accident, by Dave Eggers, is, most of all, an emotional encounter. The collision of two cars makes the driver of one of them aware of something missing in his life: a connection with people.
Bullhead, by Leigh Allison Wilson, is about a woman remembering a long lost love. She not only remembers it but clings to the memory with the desperation of one who lives in a fantasy world. I loved the last paragraph:
“Every story is true and a lie. The true part of this one is: Love and the memory of love can’t be drowned. The lie part is that this is a good thing.”
After He Left, by Matt Hlinak, one of the shortest stories in the book, is about half a page long. The strangest thing about it is that on my way home I saw a dead sparrow – just like the girl in the story – and when I did, my thoughts flew back to the words on that half page and I saw it too, the world moving fast, impatient and oblivious to life and its endings.
Forgotten, by Anne Mazer, captures the essence of childhood play so beautifully:
“All day they followed paths, forded streams, and climbed trees. They discovered countries, crossed oceans and desserts, explored jungles teeming with life. They were animal and human, villain and hero, rich and poor, fearless and timid. They were born and died hundreds of times. New races of people spilled from their fingers. They tunneled under mountains, built and destroyed worlds, flew to the moon and sun, and reached the beginnings and ends of time.”
There are many more wonderful stories in the book but I’m not going to run through all. Some of them, like the ones mentioned above, struck a chord with me; others I enjoyed for their flow, or characters or the rhythm of the words.
Every story in the book centers on childhood or adolescence: fragments of life seen through a youngster’s eyes, a first love, the lure of the virtual world, teen pregnancy, the loss of a parent, a birthday celebration. Stories tied with emotion, loss, love and regret, stories about a time we all went through. Stories that made me remember my own childhood, summer days spent lying under a tree on a blanket with a book in my hands, golden plums I ate half-peeled pretending they were ice-cream, the smell of grass and of a big black dog with a spatter of white on its chest who found its untimely death under the wheels of a car.
A very good book that I will certainly read again. I already went back to reread some of the stories and they were just as good as the first time.
*Read in January 2012