Read this for part of a discussion group on campus, as Nathan Englander came to give a reading and work with students. Stories are a mix of humor andRead this for part of a discussion group on campus, as Nathan Englander came to give a reading and work with students. Stories are a mix of humor and heartbreak. Really wonderful collection. A few favorite stories of mine were: The Twenty-seventh Man, The Tumblers, The Wig, The Gilgul of Park Avenue, Reb Kringle and the title story, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges....more
While the Women Are Sleeping is the first work I've read by Javier Marias. It's a collection of short stories spanning over 30 years of writing. I tWhile the Women Are Sleeping is the first work I've read by Javier Marias. It's a collection of short stories spanning over 30 years of writing. I tend to think of collections like this as greatest hits album. A writer's been around for a while, re-releases a bunch of stuff, it takes minimal effort, and generates some interest. That may not be a fair comparison. Though written in vastly different times, the stories are linked together by their tone and subject matter. Whether it's a difference in translation, culture, or age, the stories don't read like contemporary fiction, but more like something written in the late 19th or early 20th century.
The title story, "While the Women Are Sleeping" sets a mood similar to Poe or Hitchcock. The narrator and his wife have been watching a couple at the beach while on vacation. The man whom they observe is obese and much older, he also constantly films his young, attractive girlfriend. Through a change in setting, the narrator meets the older man and asks him about his activities. The older man replies that he adores the woman, and wants to capture the last days of her life. Is she ill, the narrator asks? No, is the answer. From there a conversation ensues about love, life, and death. The story is slow to develop, but high in tension and discomfort.
"A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps" also visits the ideas of life and death. In this story a ghost haunts an old woman, but only the young woman who reads to her can see the ghost. The young woman falls in love with the ghost, who never speaks to her, and develops a relationship of sorts. The story asks the reader to question time. How do we perceive the passage of time? How do we remember events? Who is haunting whom? It's a beautiful and sad critique on growing old and finding love.
A story that differs somewhat is "Gualta," in which a young, charming, highly successful man encounters a colleague in the same corporation who is exactly the same as the narrator. The encounter leads him to a realization that he hates himself. The narrator tries to revise his personality and makes an effort to become coarser. Unexpectedly, the other man has suffered from the same identity crisis. Strong for the most part, the story concludes with an ending low on satisfaction as it loses momentum and direction.
Overall, the stories are entertaining and work well as a collection; however, in terms of being great stories they fall short. Some of the stories like, "An Epigram of Fealty," and "Issac's Journey" seem concept driven with little impact. While stories like "The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga" develop slow enough that the writing seems to value style over accessibility. The best story out of the collection is "While the Women Are Sleeping" and you can read it online through the New Yorker. Though the other stories may not hit all the points to be classified as great short stories, they are full of creativity and worth reading....more
I read the first two stories: "Near Taurus" and "Her Purchase." Wasn't grabbed by either story, and after skimming a few more, don't think that will cI read the first two stories: "Near Taurus" and "Her Purchase." Wasn't grabbed by either story, and after skimming a few more, don't think that will change. The prose is choppy, and it feels like Raffel is going for style over substance. Also, 21 stories regarding frenetic mothers and their neglected children seems like overkill to me....more
Day Out of Days by Sam Shephard is unlike most short story collections I've read. It's a place of voice. Set mainly along the rural highways of theDay Out of Days by Sam Shephard is unlike most short story collections I've read. It's a place of voice. Set mainly along the rural highways of the Midwest, Great Plains, and Western states, the stories speak from and of people who have watched their towns decay, given up on their dreams and settled in for the slow passing of time. Voices fill the pages. Voices enter the readers head. At times, these voices run together, loose their form and are lost in a cacophony of sound. Still, there are instances where they stand out, and weave together a narrative that holds the reader's attention. As in "Haskell, Arkansas (Highway 70)":
Sunday, midday. Not many cars. Man's out for a stroll. He comes across a head in a ditch by the side of the road; walks right past it, thinking he hasn't seen what he's just seen; thinking it's not possible. He stops. His heart starts picking up a little. His breath gets choppy. He's shaking now and he's never understood why his body always takes over in moments of panic like this; why his body refuses to listen to his head. He turns and goes back. He stops again and stares down into the ditch. There it is. Big as life. He's staring straight at it. A severed head in a wicker basket. He picks up a stick and pokes it likes he's done before with dead dogs or deer.
Suddenly, the head starts to speak to the man in a soft, lilting voice. The eyes of the head don't open; the lips don't move. The voice just seems to be floating out the top of the skull. It's a humble, quiet kind of voice with no accent that the man can make out. Maybe the islands. The head asks the man if he'll kindly pick up the basket and carry it to a place it would prefer to be. A tranquil place not too far from here, away from the pounding sun and the roar of traffic.
Even the dead and speechless have a voice in the Shephard's stories. What I like about this story is that it's as if Shephard is speaking to the reader. We are the man by the side of the road. The head contains all the voices, all the stories. We pick them up, travel a bit with them. See what happens.
In Day Out of Days, you see a writer having fun with language and story. Not everything works. There are snippets that seem like they belong more in a writing journal than in a published book, but who cares. Overall, it adds to the effect. One result though is that this collection is slow to read. It's best to give the voices space and let them reside within you a bit before moving on. Restless, but not aimless, Day Out of Days will leave you with a glimpse of America through the windshield of a dusty truck passing through.
I'd heard about Andrea Barrett's short story collection Servants of the Map, years ago while living in Nebraska. It was shuffled away on my to read liI'd heard about Andrea Barrett's short story collection Servants of the Map, years ago while living in Nebraska. It was shuffled away on my to read list, and for some reason the book rose up again on my horizon. When I began it, I had a sense of dejavu. It all seemed so familiar. I'm pretty sure I've read the title story in an anthology. It's a good story, captivating and interesting. The main character is surveying the Himalayan mountains as part of the British surveying teams in the 1800's.
The stories are imbued with science and the wonder of early science as people's notions of the fantastic were supplanted by Darwin's work and others. However, the other stories are not as good. A few of the characters repeat, so it begins to be a little confusing trying to see which stories might link up. Barrett is a talented writer, but I'm not sure about the length of what she writes. It seems she would comfortable writing a novella, as most of her stories run pretty long.
While I enjoyed this work, it also began to drag. The setting began to feel more like a backdrop, and it annoyed me that all of the characters seemed to be taking part in this early scientific discussion. Perhaps, that is what life was like, but it felt like a theme that became a prison. Very repetitive.
My advice is to pick out the title story and give it a go, while leaving the rest of the stories for another time. ...more
It's hard to write about an anthology due to the number of voices and stories represented. This collection brings together a vast array of short shortIt's hard to write about an anthology due to the number of voices and stories represented. This collection brings together a vast array of short short stories and is a must read for anyone interested in that form, or whom suffers from AD/HD....more
I've learned a lot from reading Chekhov over the past few weeks in terms of how short stories work. It seems in modern short stories action happens quI've learned a lot from reading Chekhov over the past few weeks in terms of how short stories work. It seems in modern short stories action happens quickly and the author comes speeding toward the endpoint from the first sentence. There are workshops devoted to crafting that first sentence even. Other times, there are these "slice of life" stories which tend to be a little, well for lack of a better word, boring. Chekhov could fall under that category, except there tends to be more going on in his fiction. What Chekhov accomplishes is establishing an overall mood. It is more of a character than the people in the story. It sinks into the characters and the reader in a way the shades everyone's actions. Some of the stories are married closely to the reader's perspective too, because the main character is an outsider looking in. He or she can sense something is amiss but they don't really understand what it is. Those feelings translate to the reader as well. Worth reading, but pretty melancholy....more
Can definitely tell that this is Chabon's earlier work. Some of the stories seem so skeletal compared to later stuff. Also, a few seemed more like wriCan definitely tell that this is Chabon's earlier work. Some of the stories seem so skeletal compared to later stuff. Also, a few seemed more like writing exercises. The stories I liked the best were a group at the end that dealt with a family named the Shapiro's and there son Nathan. There are four or five stories and it basically tells a larger story about the family going through a divorce. Also, the title story A Model World was really great with some sinister undertones.
Still love his writing, but this collection didn't do it for me....more
Lately in short story collections and short stories themselves there seems to be a move toward the International story, where the characters are fromLately in short story collections and short stories themselves there seems to be a move toward the International story, where the characters are from another culture and the plot rides that crest between borders. Maybe this is a just a result of globalization, our fiction is embracing the world around it which is full of refugees, overseas business and a general questioning of culture. Sometimes, it gets quite old; however, I found this collection to be incredibly refreshing. It’s stuck with me in the year and a half since I read it. There is a particularly moving story about a soldier left for dead in a warehouse in Bosnia. He thinks it is an infirmary, but in reality they have dumped those they cannot treat, or whom they don’t think will make it anyway. Travelling along the border of love and pain, this collection explores our weaknesses and how best attempts are often not enough. ...more
I like to view short story collections in the same was as an album. There are going to be some great songs, a couple of favorites and then some duds.I like to view short story collections in the same was as an album. There are going to be some great songs, a couple of favorites and then some duds. The same held true with this collection, and I think part of my ambivalence with this collection is that the really good stories I read in magazines already, so that when I came across the bad stories, they really stuck out. As with all Murakami fiction there is a notion of disconnect, as characters struggle to make sense of the world around them. It is like because of the mundaneness of our lives we are shut off to things, or perhaps are empty of a greater sense of the world around us. The stories that stood out to me were, Birthday Girl, Hunting Knife, Airplane: or He Talks to Himself as If Reciting Poetry, Man-eating Cats, Hanalei Bay, and A Shinagawa Monkey. The rest of the stories were either just okay or didn't make sense. Two that stand out as not working were Dabchick and Sharpie Cakes. If there was something I didn't get or missed, that's fine, the stories started in the bizarre and went basically nowhere. What I appreciate though is that Murakami takes risks. He's willing to go somewhere most writer's wouldn't in order to test out a new idea. I think this experimental aspect gives Murakami's novels such a unique quality. As if it is okay to fail in a short story in order to generate a good novel or just to push out with your imagination....more