Discovering short stories

I don’t often choose to read a collection of short stories as I usually prefer a novel. I’ve always felt that you can’t develop the same connection with the characters because, just as you’ve formed your opinion of the characters, the story has ended and you move on to the next one with a new set of characters or a completely different setting. I think sometimes this leaves you feeling a bit in limbo, like there is something unfinished or perhaps something missing, and ultimately rather unsatisfied.

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Although, having said that, I haven’t actually read many short story collections. I’ve read ‘Not the End of the World’ by Kate Atkinson but I wasn’t altogether that impressed, even though I’ve enjoyed the novels that I’ve read by her. I also remember reading ‘Four Stories’ by Alan Bennett which I did enjoy and thought his humour and style was good but it didn’t really leave a lasting impression. I can only think of two that I’ve read recently: ‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce and ‘Homeland’ by Barbara Kingsolver, which I have just finished. Since reading these two collections I’ve come to the conclusion that before now I think I have been reading short stories wrong, or rather, I have overlooked the fact the short stories need to be read differently to how you would approach a novel, in much the same way as you read poetry differently to a novel. It seems glaringly obvious now that I put it into words. I think that perhaps if I were to go back to the first two collections I mentioned, I would probably enjoy them more a second time round, particularly Bennett’s work.

It seems to me that short stories need to be read more analytically; whereas a novelist has a whole book to develop the story, the author who writes short stories has to concentrate what they are trying to convey in a much smaller word count. This also means that the reader has much less time to work out what is going on and to formulate their opinion. Also, to truly be a collection of stories rather than a random muddle of totally different plots, each of the stories should connect in some way, however implicitly, and part of the interest of reading a collection one story after another is trying to decipher what links them together. Equally, the beauty of a book of short stories is being able to dip in and out and read whichever one takes your fancy, as each story should be able to stand alone as a story in its own right.

I really enjoyed ‘Homeland’, particularly the stories ‘Blueprints’ and ‘Covered Bridges’. I thought the continuity between the stories was compelling, each showing the strong bonds of love within many different relationships. Yet I enjoyed pausing to reflect between each story on the different situations and settings and how the characters developed throughout their story, how each responded to their environment. I think Kingsolver creates her characters exceptionally well; every character has something so real about them that they could easily jump from the pages and become people who you know in your local town, even though they span a wide range of different people.

homeland

After reading ‘Homeland’ I’m very keen to read another of her books, especially ‘Flight Behaviour’ which I recently got a copy of. It will definitely be on my list of summer reads. I’m also definitely more open to trying some more collections of short stories and so if anyone has any suggestions then I’d love to add some books to my summer reading list.

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