My mother was an avid reader who loved to talk about literature. On several occasions I remember her expressing her dislike of short stories. My mother listened to National Radio and classical music, was passionate about gardening and always had every ingredient she might need in her pantry.
I’m afraid I have to own up to a shorter attention span: I get impatient waiting for plants to grow and usually decide to forget about them just when it’s time to give them some more attention; I never manage to buy more than one meal’s worth of ingredients at the market and I usually leave my ipod on shuffle rather than listening to an entire album from beginning to end.
Needless to say, I am a fan of the short story, though like most fiction (or most writing for that matter), it still seems that the really good examples are few and far between. Recently I’ve enjoyed stories from some new and newish collections, including Birthday stories, edited by Haruki Murakami – a collection of stories about birthdays; Second violins, a cool collection of New Zealand stories that take as their starting point the first paragraph of an unfinished Katherine Mansfield story (the unfinished stories are included); Luminous, by Alice Tawhai, a previously blogged-on book by a writer who is currently working on her third collection of short stories and has yet to publish a novel. Her style is unique, colourful and sometimes a little sad for me. She also heads up Second violins with a beautiful story which shows off her descriptive powers (especially pertaining to wallpaper) with a tad fewer depressing reflections on the state of human society.
It is particularly pleasing to see a collection that includes stories of absolute minimum size and longer examples of sixty pages.
What is it that makes a brilliant short story, how are they so different from novels and why do most library users (and mothers) overlook them?