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Category Archive for 'Short Stories'

Michael Cunningham’s ten tales, distortions of fairy tales we have all heard as children, will make most readers smile in recognition and sometimes sardonic glee, while annoying some traditionalists who would like to preserve intact their memories of an idyllic childhood. All readers will probably agree, however, that Cunningham’s interpretations of these stories deserve the more serious thought that none of us were able to accord them when we were much younger. Including stories based on Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, and several other less famous tales, Cunningham begins by examining the answer to the real, unasked question which haunts the traditional fairy tale conclusions. The convenient “And they lived happily ever after” no longer applies here, as Cunningham employs reason and some dark humor to develop the tales in more modern and more surprising ways. With these stories, we get the answers to “And then, what?” The joys and burdens of fate, the delights of dreams fulfilled and the horrors of dreams destroyed, the ability to survive life’s vagaries and the need to accept some things that cannot be changed are all themes here which make Cunningham’s depictions of life in these new tales feel more honest than the fairy tales they emerge from, and, certainly more fun for adult readers, many of whom have outgrown the black and white tales of the past.

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Mai Al-Nakib, an author from Kuwait who got her PhD. in English literature from Brown University, knows how to capture an American audience, and her descriptions and her narrative style in this remarkable collection of stories are so attuned to her characters and subjects that readers will actually experience – not just “learn about” – parts of the world which most of us know only second-hand. Set in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Palestine, and, through the travel of some of these characters, in Japan and Greece, her stories are filled with word pictures so vivid that many readers will come close to feeling the reality of day-to-day life in these places. She opens new worlds, and by the time the collection ends, many readers will be viewing life in these parts of the world with clearer vision and greater empathy. The passage of time, the fragility of life, the effects of change, and the transcience of memory unite this story and connect it to other stories in this collection. The title of the collection, The Hidden Light of Objects, attests to the importance of the story objects within these stories, and while none of us, perhaps, regard our own “souvenirs” or keepsakes as “story objects” in quite the same way as they are used here, it is impossible not to identify with the characters here as they share their intimate thoughts and feelings with us as readers. Separating the ten short stories are series of ten short vignettes, which sometimes connect with each other and within various stories. This extraordinary collection deals with the biggest, most universal themes of literature, told through the eyes of characters with whom readers will identify and, perhaps, gain in understanding.

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With an opening story which feels like some bizarre, twisted, and darkly humorous version of Deliverance, O. Henry Award-winner Arthur Bradford turns not just this plot on its head but every other plot in every other story in this collection. These interconnected stories feature a young, naïve speaker, usually identified as “Georgie,” who seems born without a sense of caution, someone who appears to have no ability to predict disasters as he enthusiastically follows his imagination or heart without a glance backward – or forward. Few readers will be able to resist this character, whose heart is in the right place though he lives on a completely different plane from the rest of the world. Even those few main characters who are not specifically identified as “Georgie” might just as well be Georgie in terms of their personality and behavior, acting the way many of us dreamed of behaving in an earlier, simpler world, long before we grew up and learned to “pay attention,” “think of the future,” and “be careful.” It is the tension between our empathy for Georgie and our frustration with him for his gullibility that keeps the reader entertained and involved, though Georgie is guaranteed to make every parent who reads this book cringe.

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#1 on my list of Favorites for 2015! Powerful, climactic moments, both physical and emotional, pervade these stories, which are dramatic and thought-provoking in their emphasis on the various ways of looking at traumatic incidents while recognizing that there are always unknowns that creep into the reality of such events. The title novella is a classic, and three additional stories of varying lengths add to this unforgettable collection about points of view and the impossibility of ever knowing for sure what the essence of reality really is and why its interpretation differs among people who have participated in the same events but come to different conclusions. The stories come alive through McCann’s matchless ability to describe places and recreate lives through dialogue.

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Hilary Mantel has never hesitated to say exactly what she means, and her descriptive abilities leave no room for doubt about exactly why she believes as she does. Though she is praised for her elegant turns of phrase when those are appropriate, she is equally skilled at stating, in no uncertain terms, her opinions about less elegant subjects. When Mantel’s recent short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher was first published in September, 2014, Mantel found herself on the front News page of the London Daily Mail, having done the unthinkable by imagining a story in which a man with Irish ties decides to assassinate the then-Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher had died only a year before the story was published, and the public and many politicians were outraged by this story. Mantel held her ground, telling the Guardian in 2014 that she “feels boiling detestation” for Thatcher and considers her an “antifeminist psychological transvestite who did long-standing damage to the UK.” In comparison to these remarks, the short story of “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” feels almost tame, however dark or ill-advised it may have been. Death, marriage, infidelity, psychiatric ailments, the writing life, book clubs, and issues of adolescence, among other themes dominate these stories, but Mantel writes with a rapier in her hand, often turning a seemingly innocent scene into a scene of dark twists and sometimes ironic humor.

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