We read Max Porter’s Grief is a Thing With Feathers for book club. Yet another reminder of why book club is great (if the bowls of candy & chocolate weren’t sufficiently compelling) is the invitation to read things I would never otherwise read. Even things I don’t like. Maybe especially things I don’t like? Continue reading
Tag Archives: short
I lost my book this weekend (don’t worry I found it under a coat in the car). While it was lost, my partner left the country (he’ll be back), my sister had a baby (not so much upsetting as overwhelming) and I didn’t get the job (though I didn’t expect to, disappointment is disappointment). Heady times for this reader. Hardly a time to be book-less. Time, you might think, to turn to the failsafe: the young adult fiction bookshelf (and yes, it has its own bookshelf).
Among the Beverly Clearly (there is a lot of Beverly), Gordon Korman and E.B. White I found my Kit Pearson collection. Pearson, if you’re not familiar (you should be – go get her) is a Canadian author made famous (or Canadian famous) for The Guests of War trilogy – a series that follows British Home Children (British children sent to live in Canada for the duration of WWII) – and for her Newbery winner A Handful of Time. While I remembered loving – and reading and re-reading – the Guest of War, I couldn’t remember – at all – reading A Handful of Time. I sort of thought maybe it was the same as Tuck Everlasting? You know how sometimes YA gets confused in your mind as just one big happy bit of comfort read?
Anyway, much to my delight I don’t think I’d *ever* read (or at least I have no memory of reading) A Handful of Time. And so the story unfolded like so much delightful discovery mixed with comfort and reassurance (something inherent to the genre? I’m beginning to wonder). Our protagonist is lonely, misunderstood and awkward (*cough* not at all like anyone I know or feel like). She encounters a setting – family cottage – and characters – family members – who exacerbate her feelings of lonely-awkward. And then! As if by design she discovers something (only a little magical) that allows her to understand herself better, to grow into her sense of being, to communicate who she is and what she wants: to become her better self. It is the kind of reminder and lesson every 29-year-something (I’ll refuse 30-something as long as I can) should get: that the scale of our problems and challenges may feel monumental (“I don’t know how to steer a canoe!” or “I can’t afford to retire! ever!”) but the resilience we need to meet and grow through these challenges can be accessible to us if we think to ask, or look within.
Of course this is a problematic trajectory for the many, many kids who don’t have that kind of support network. Who don’t have ways or means to look within to find that strength and fortitude. Who meet challenges only to be met by a challenge they can’t meet. And I don’t mean to diminish these by saying, just read some YA and it will all be okay.
I just mean to say that sometimes in reading these stories – and this was certainly the case for me this weekend – by reading this story it was okay. I was comforted by the familiarity and associations of the reading practice: quiet, bathtub, introspection. I was comforted by the narrative itself: challenges overcome! I was comforted by the genre that allowed this reader to recall that the feeling of being misunderstood isn’t confined to our teenage years, that we continue to need the reminder that this, too, is shaping who we are. And that often it just sucks. And is hard. And lonely.
Less lonely, I guess, when you have a brilliant author like Pearson who gives you a story and a character to fall in with, to live with and to triumph with – if only in its pages.
(aside: when did ‘resilience’ become the catch-word for kids?)
I begin reading novels with the presumption of brilliance; I begin reading short stories with the expectation of disappointment. It is for novels to fail; it is for short stories to triumph. Call me a genre-ist, call me a novel-ist (no really, call me a novelist!), call me what you will.
Angela Carter’s collection (as recommended by E. – thanks!) The Bloody Chamber does so well as a collection it more than proves its burden of brilliance. And here’s my hypothesis for why it’s so great: it sets out to be a short story collection. Most of the other collections I’ve encountered read as patchwork efforts wherein a writer realized they’d amassed enough stories to call it a collection, puzzled out some central themes, maybe did some edits, and worked on a good title. With Carter, however, it’s clear – or at least I hope this is the case – that she decided to write a collection of fucked up fairy tales and did just that. So it’s no surprise that scenes repeat, characters share characteristics, the themes – curiosity, sexuality, youth, virginity – bleed (ha! get it? Bloody chamber?) from one story to the next. My terrible pun is evidence of this too, as blood and the colour red penetrate all of the stories as characters must confront the physical body and its (mostly sexual) urges. So many deflowered virgins.
I also enjoyed Carter’s willingness to see the human as one other kind of beast caught up in a fantastical world of desire and impulse. That we often behave without reason, or more often still, counter-reason, is exploited by Carter in a number of the stories when the reader watches in car-accident-attention-horror as yet another woman falls victim (or rather, agentally victimizes herself) to yet another beastly man or manly beast.
Here’s a good example:
“That long-drawn, wavering howl has, for all its fearful resonance, some inherent sadness in it, as if the beasts would love to be less beastly if only they knew how and never case to mourn their own condition” (112).
Swap out “beast” and pop in “human” and you’ve got the collection covered. Well, add a bit more blood and you’d have it covered.
Each story provides an unexpected narrative point of view (I loved, for instance, the animal perspective of Puss in ‘Puss in Boots’ – at long last a non-human protagonist I enjoyed!), some twist classic fairy tales, others simply allude to them. In either case the resonances make for a disturbing read.
So the whole point of this blog was to help me remember the books I read, because I have been known (on occasion) to forget the books that I read. So it is with some regret that I report that I finished reading Sarah Robert’s short story collection Wax Boats about a week ago, and in the time between finishing it and (finally) having the time to write this, I have forgotten a lot of the salient details I had planned to comment on.
What do I remember? What can I comment on?
There are some good animal stories in this collection?
Umm. I liked that several of the stories featured reoccurring characters (I expect Roberts is hard at work on a novel, as many of the stories and the cycle of characters lend themselves well to a longer work), though I might have liked these stories to be properly linked – perhaps under one title? – rather than interspersed among other stories in the collection, which led to some unnecessary thematic jostling.
There’s a really great story about a Boy Scout camping expedition gone wrong “Hammersmith” that is well worth getting the collection to read. I’m not sure I’d extend the same recommendation to the rest of the collection, as my already fading memory suggests the stories were good, but not great. With the exception of ‘Hammersmith,’ which asked what kinds of bravery are possible, and what we owe one another in small – self-sustaining – communities. It would be a really good story to put on a Canadian lit comprehensive exam list, or a course on Canadian literature, if, for some reason, you found yourself in the position to be writing either of those things.
I promise to never let a week go by between finishing and blogging again. For all our sakes.