Jacob's Reviews > All the Stories of Muriel Spark

All the Stories of Muriel Spark by Muriel Spark
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Apr 11, 2012

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message 1: by Ali (last edited Apr 11, 2012 06:24PM) (new)

Ali I like that title. It's more direct and to the point than other story collection prefixes. Obviously, "selected stories" means, well, just that, selected, not complete. "Collected/complete stories" will often refer to the work of a living author, in which case, the title means "the complete stories of [author] up until the publish date of this book", as is the case with Louis Auchincloss and his collected stories. Also, collected doesn't necessarily mean complete, though they are mostly interchangeable, especially with dead authors. "The Stories of [author]" is more ambiguous, but most of the time, it's a larger selection of the author's work, not necessarily everything, as with Richard Bausch ;(;(;( and Heinrich Boll. I've got Boll's Collected Stories, and it's much longer than The Stories of Heinrich Boll.
This is better. It's all the stories, so you know you're not missing anything. This needs to be a new prefix for collections.

Incidentally, I have a book of works by Émile Zola which is titled "several works". They don't even bother to tell you what's in this thing. It's just a bunch of stuff, and you'll have to figure out what's in it for yourself.

message 2: by Jacob (last edited Apr 11, 2012 06:00PM) (new) - added it

Jacob Navigating the whole Selected/Collected/Complete Stories" business has always annoyed me too, and "Selected Stories" just piss me off to no end. I blame Raymond Carver, who managed to have both a "Selected Stories" and "New and Selected Stories," and we would still be waiting for a complete collection were it not for the Library of America's "Collected Stories," which is large and pricey in hardcover, grumble.

So this collection is nice and refreshing. All the stories of Muriel Spark, or 41 stories. I wish I had it. Instead I grabbed her New and Collected Stories, with...only 37. Seriously, whoever thought it would be a good idea to publish someone's complete storie, minus four, should be taken out back and shot.

...well, ok, that might be a bit extreme. Maybe just taken outside and given a stern talking to.

message 3: by Ali (new)

Ali 41 stories in 398 pages? Those things are either really short, or the pages are long. Amy Hempel's Collected Stories was 404 pages, not including the annoying introduction by Rick Moody, and the notes about every story and which magazine it appeared in first, and included something like 51 stories. The pages were short, too, averaging only 239 words per page. There would be a story that was ten pages long, and one that was three, than five, then something close to a novella, then back to the three-pagers...
I have to admire writers who can write stories using that little space, and still make them good. Sure, giant, sprawling novels which give you five or six hundred pages to develop the characters and get you to care about them are good, but the writers who can make you care what happens to someone in a story a fraction of that size are talented in ways I can't quite get my head around.

message 4: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Yeah, most of the stories are pretty short, 4-10 pages each. A few longer ones, but not many. But I've heard good things about Sparks. Haven't read any yet. Finishing up the Connell collection soon, haven't quite decided what to read next. Maybe this one? We'll see.

message 5: by Ali (new)

Ali You should read The Collected Stories of William Trevor. It will keep you busy for a while, and, more importantly, it will help me decide if I want to start reading it, since I've been halfway kind of maybe considering it, and need someone else to make my decisions for me, due to my laziness.

message 6: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob 1250 pages, 80+ stories...if I wasn't finishing up another long collection I would definitely consider it, but I wanna read some smaller ones first.

message 7: by Ali (new)

Ali Huh! Small books are for loser communiss liberal cowards who can't handle books like real men! I would never, ever even consider reading anything under 300,000 words, because I love AMERICA! *Hides the giant pile of thin volumes I plan to read after finishing AAT.*

message 8: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Books? Whadder yer mean, books? Ther's only one book yer sposedter read if yer a real Merrican, an that's ther bahble, son!

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Ali wrote: "Sure, giant, sprawling novels which give you five or six hundred pages to develop the characters and get you to care about them are good, but the writers who can make you care what happens to someone in a story a fraction of that size are talented in ways I can't quite get my head around. ..."

Haha--I'm gonna be a bully and make you elaborate on this, because it's one of my favorite subjects to needle people about (usually other writers, so I'm always keen to jump in when a Reader Proper--I don;t think you also write, or do you?--makes such a remark.)

Have you thought through what you're saying? Do you truly think it takes more talent to "do something to a reader" in a short space (I keep it vague because I don;t want to pigeonhole) than in a longer? You think there is a "more impressive talent" on display or that to produce any given effect with little is the trickier thing?

message 10: by Ali (new)

Ali Not necessarily more talent, or less, for that matter, just different, one that requires a different mindset to be able to achieve, and, it appears, a little rarer than the high-fantasy novelistss of the world who will gladly take eight hundred pages to describe a situation or character until you care about them, though of course the fact of their rarity in itself doesn't make them better than those who take longer. If you're writing with no space limits, you can take as much time as you want to go into as much detail as you deem necessary. In a short story, or even a novella, you don't have as much space as you'd like, so you have to achieve some sort of effect, whether emotional, visceral, or whatever the case might be, using far less than the novelist, which is where it gets tricky. Every word counts twoards creating that effect. There is no room for unnecessary exposition or lazy writing, and if you try to force those things into the story because you don't feel like putting in the effort to show and not tell, which is where a lot of bad story writers fuck up, it stops working as a literary creation which is meant to evoke an effect, and the reader will either stop caring about the story entirely, or, if you've managed to make your story good despite its pitfalls, when they remember it, their memory might be marred by the bad bits, even if they liked it. That's why I like Raymond Carver. His stories seem plotless and quotidian, but his powers of suggestion with every word and sentence creates an entirely new story about the main characters beyond the obvious one. Which isn't to say that novelists can't do that, because it's evident they can, but to accomplish it well in a shorter form is a little harder.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Ali wrote: "Not necessarily more talent, or less, for that matter, just different, one that requires a different mindset to be able to achieve, and, it appears, a little rarer than the high-fantasy novelistss ..."

(NOTE This is me needling, this is my gadfly way of doing things, as warned--I preamble that I am not trying to argue, I just love going on about this subject)

Don’t get me wrong—I disagree with none of what you say, I have nothing to argue, just want to discuss, merrily—yet it always surprises me how much I find myself to the side of this idea about “short form” fiction, like it is distillation of long form or is “tricky to do” or such a tenuous thing, the line between “good” and “bad”, “accomplished” and “failed” razor thin—I don’t argue with people’s points, but don’t see the trail leading to the formation of the philosophy.

Perhaps more what I’m driving at—I never understand why the difference is brought in, so readily, between “novel” or other “long form” and the short form (in whatever iteration). I just don’t see what the two have to do with each other, or why anyone would level comparisons, one way or another, between them (reiterating, I don’t think people are wrong or stupid to do so, I’m not being snarky, it’s just a peculiarity to my aesthetic and normally I bat the idea only around with writers, so the filter is even more odd). Put simply: a short story is not a novel “reduced” and a novel is not a “short story with more filler” (or better, is not the “same story” as might have been a short story with “more time” taken on each point, and the same in reverse). There are not “wasted words” in a novel simply because another type of writing, which is something else, uses less words (you know the scene in Amadeus, where the King tells Mozart his piece has “too many notes” and Mozart replies “it has just exactly the amount of notes that are necessary”) It’d be like making a direct, philosophical, aesthetic comparison between a piece of theatre and a novel, a poem and a novella etc. They don’t touch, to me, so—as I say (sorry for the rant) it was curious to get phrasing I so often hear from writers right from a reader.

Because (you didn’t do it) but so many times I hear expressions regarding short form like “this manages an entire novel in the space of so few words” or some rubbish and it drives me up the wall (for reason I trust are self-evident so I won’t bore us with). I find it kind of unsettling, like it, unintentionally, dismisses the actual nature of each form by making direct comparison, and (worse) dismisses many of the nuances of literature, writing in general, by suggesting spatial things like word counts are any basis for what is done—literature is an expression that takes exactly how many words it takes to express, and to think of an artist either arbitrarily predetermining their work will be “short” or just as arbitrarily predetermining their work will be “long” and then judging an ability at all by “what fits in what space” is…weird, to me. Building from this, it also suggests there is some “natural” (or even correct) general length to express a literature (i.e. a “novel is the normal way to do it” a “short story an abberation from the norm” etc) and I’ve never, as reader or writer, approached a piece like that.

Okay—ending with one more time (I know how my tone gets) stating that on many levels I know and even agree with what you are saying, but wonder if you have considered why you make the comparison and, further, why you imagine a different process for each form, That is, if an artist has something to say and saying it takes five thousand words, and then they have another thing to say and it takes sixty thousand, why do you think this artist is “doing something different” each time? And, coming at it another way, if you pick up a literature that is eighty thousand words, why consider that it is, in anyway, more words than it needed specifically to be, the same way as when you pick up an five thousand word story, why not just think “well, these are the five thousand words the author wanted to say, the author said them, and recognized it was finished”? Do you think (again, not being aggressive, happy, happy earnest desire to blather on my face and in my rickety typing) that a piece of literature comes out as a blob of indeterminist goop and then, for reasons immaterial to this original expression, an artist thinks “now do I want to add to this or do I want to take away?”

message 12: by Ali (last edited Apr 13, 2012 02:14PM) (new)

Ali Goodreads appears to have stopped sending me email notifications lately, so I didn't see this reply until now:

I have written before, though not in a while, and am planning to start up again at some point, so I do speak from the point of view of a writer, perhaps more than as a reader.

I don't think I've ever thought of it that way, and you bring up a lot of good points, as well as questions of why we, referring to the majority of readers and some writers, even, somehow keep coming back to arbitrary comparisons between art forms which are so different from each other.
I was reading a book of poetry recently, and for no reason at all, the first thing to come into my mind after finishing equated to, "These poems are like tiny short stories". Then I began to wonder why I would think such a thing, because the poem is so different from a story, it requires a different way of thinking and writing, and they weren't at all similar in construction, even if they were in content, that it was like comparing a cat to a horse simply because they both have four legs. . You cannot write about the same subjects in a novel that you could in a short story, and the subjects you explore in a novel cannot be distilled into story length. I bring up Carver again, because the subjects he wrote about cannot possibly be expanded. In his stories, it would appear that nothing much happens at all, and the reader used to having their fiction spell everything out for them with little ambiguities would be confused and not like his work. There's a short story in his collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, that describes a woman getting up from bed, and having a midnight talk with a neighbour with whom her husband used to be friends. He is killing slugs. After, she goes inside to her sleeping husband, and the drool on his face reminds her of the slugs she just saw. But because of his ability of suggestion and implication, there's an entirely different story about loneliness running through those seemingly banal and pointless events. There's no way you could make that into five hundred pages, nor could you take the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, and compress it into a sixteen thousand word novella, because the forms are simply that different from each other. They explore different subjects in different ways, and lead to different outcomes. Readers, especially of more mainstream fiction, will be much angrier with a book if it has an ambiguous ending that doesn't tidy up the story with a happy ending than they would if they read that same ending in a short story, because they expect different things out of a novel than a story.
I came to realize that it seems to be partially a matter of expectation. Though my views have taken a 180-degree turn after reading more and more short stories, I, as well as many other readers, I'd venture to say, would expect more out of anything written in longer form. I expected anything which would have me devoted to reading it for sixty or eighty or two hundred thousand words to deliver something more, whether in terms of edification or emotional content, or whatever, than something which was two or three thousand words, so when I would read a short story, and found that the experience of reading it was exactly as satisfying as reading a novel, I was confused, and thus made myself guilty of using the that annoying adage that the story was like a tiny novel, except with fewer words at least once.
As a writer, and maybe this is just me, but when I start writing something, I never know how it's going to turn out in terms of length, though I do recognize, on some level, that certain stories or essays or reviews are going to take longer to fully flesh out than others. I just write the story until it's done being written, and that's the end of it. I've never thought, apart from the usual editing process wherein I take out the parts of the story that don't need to be there and add things that should, about adding more words because the story needs to be longer. Those who do think like that risk writing bad stories with far too much content, and minimising the effect they wanted to produce. I don't believe I've ever sat down and said to myself, "I'm going to write a story this week", or a novella, or something longer. I write until I'm finished, and questions of length never come into it. But even then, knowing all of these things, I have made the comparison between stories and novels. And I wonder why? Is it something that has been preprogrammed into me over the years, because so many authors, especially of commercial genre fiction, keep stressing the importance of length? Is it because, as I mentioned, when I was a shallower reader, I would automatically expect more out of a large piece of writing, simply because it was larger? I don't know, not entirely, which is why this disgussion is a good thing, because I like to have all of my assumptions about everything, no matter how seemingly small and inconsequential, challenged.

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