I started reading Alice Munro’s *Best Stories* last night. Actually I started reading Margaret Atwood’s forward to the collection. Whatever. Atwood told me that ‘short stories’ are better called ‘short fiction.’ I suppose there’s something dismissive in calling something a ‘story’? Not as meaty as ‘fiction’? Fair enough. Henceforward I will register my complaints with “short fiction” rather than the stories.
That said, I have few complaints with Andrew Hood’s *Pardon Our Monsters*. Here are the things I enjoyed: I was impressed with the endings of the stories as they did well to provide a punch that registered with the theme of the story and those of the collection. In a few cases the endings similar work to that of *The Family Fang* in that the plot and characters were full enough that I could readily imagine what might happen next (or should happen next). There were some brilliant similes/metaphors in this collection – utterly surprising ways of describing a sunset – that were delightful and didn’t (quite) fall into the Tom Robbins trap of being so unexpected as to be jarring. I loved many of the characters who were at home in their corporeal bodies (there is a disproportionate number of fat children and redheads in this collection, perhaps a commentary on the additional ostracization these genetic ‘monsters’ encounter in daily life?) with all the grotesque attendants of being bodily: tumours, gasses, smells, lusts and urges, itches and sweats. The everyman quality of these characters meant this reader could easily identify with aspects (that all but one protagonist is a young(ish) man – if I remember correctly – speaks to the identify-ability of the characters beyond their gendered or aged bodies). Did I mention some gorgeous writing? Yes, there’s that, too.
The few complaints I do have: Some moments in the stories read like “this is the moment I’m going to tell you – by being oblique and Literary – what the theme or question of this story is.” It’s an odd complaint, and let me try to explain again. The stories *have* compelling questions (how do we connect with other people? can we get past our own insecurities? how can we support and care for those we love while being simultaneously selfish souls?). The stories *have* wonderful ways of revealing these questions through character thoughts and actions. The plot and let these questions surface. The stories resist telling you what they’re about, but then somehow they do: in one story there’s a moment where the reader reads something to the effect of ‘the moments/scenes you’re least expecting or the most unusual are the moments that tell you what it all means.’ The reveal happens a character’s thought process, or a paragraph break that says ‘this is important stuff.’ I suppose it’s a complaint that comes from a place of love for the stories: I love the story and I’m a good reader – trust me to figure out the question/importance on my own.
Given that it’s hardly a complaint to wish the stories gave me *less* – I’ll leave off by saying it’s a collection well worth seeking out. Oh! And it offers a terrific sense of place, too, so if you’re looking to get a sense of where I’m living these days…