Saturday, 19 March 2016

Short Story Collection Recommendations

I know I'm not alone in saying this, but it really ticks me off when people say that they don't like short stories.  As a genre, the short story collection can encompass as many different kinds of tales and forms as there are other genres of book.  A short story can be kind of like a movie, with one central driving motion and smaller but no less interesting things going on at the sides of this, and a novel is a little bit more like a long running TV series, each episode a chapter.  Of course there is no hard and fast rule about this, and novels get made into movies all the time to varying degrees of success.  To my knowledge, a short story has never been turned into a TV series, but if I am wrong about this please let me know in the comments.  

Australian writers in particular have really been going through a kind of renaissance in short fiction, and I don't really know why this is, but for me as a reader, I think it's fabulous.  For me, the appeal of a short story can come from a short but deep immersion into a fully formed world of characters and situations, like sticking your head into Dumbledore's Pensieve (I may have spelled that wrong, sorry JK Rowling) and simple observing what was already going on without you.  There is a sense of immediacy and inevitability about short fiction, and the kinds of stories that I like best have something quite profound to say to the reader in the telling, a moment of truth about the human condition to reveal.  Then again, I also get a sense of Puckish joy when the short story appears to be imparting great wisdom and it's really not telling you anything at all.  Maybe I just enjoy watching people struggle like that.  

What I wanted to do today was recommend some short story collections that I have really enjoyed, with the hope that you might go out and borrow one from a library or pick one up at your local bookstore and give short fiction another try.  Some of these collections were recommended to me by others, and some I studied at uni.  Others I stumbled upon on my own.  I hope among the strands here, you might be able to find something that appeals to you.

Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

This collection outwardly appears quite strange, as each story is told from the point of view of the soul of an animal killed during a human conflict.  Each story also somehow has something to do with a famous writer, and Dovey skilfully works elements of that writer's style into her own writing.  Yes, it's weird, but it's also incredible.

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

I only finished this one the other day, but now I finally get why everyone raves about Cate Kennedy.  These stories are largely suburban, about ordinary Australians, but her characters seem like they could be real people you could go out and visit.  

The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

When I studied this collection in second year uni, I'd never heard of Lahiri despite her being a multi-award winning writer.  This collection is one that speaks about displacement and the diaspora, about people trapped between continents and cultures, and about people trying to understand one another.  It's superb.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Similarly, Ngozi Adichie is much more well known now than when I first encountered her work at uni, and I think that is largely due to the fact that she counts Beyonce as one of her number one fans.  Adichie's TED talk about the danger of a single story is wonderful and I encourage you to look it up.  This collection is about African characters who migrate to collegiate America, and similarly explores the sensation and trials of being pulled between two cultures.  

The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe

The Australia in these stories is one of beaches and white sand, and like Kennedy's collection, the characters in the collection are living largely suburban experiences.  I'd never considered life in the suburbs to be worth writing about before I read Robert Drewe.  

Further recommendations

I could go on at length about this subject, but I won't.  There are many short fiction writers whose work I have come across in magazines and online, or in multi-authored collections who I would recommend as well, plus people whose collections I have reviewed here before, so in no particular order, I will mention a few names worth looking out for.

Ryan O'Neill
Susan Midalia
Laurie Steed
Maxine Beneba Clarke
Angela Carter
Roald Dahl
Nam Le
Sophie Overett
Flannery O'Connor
Michelle Michau-Crawford
Lauren Groff
Ruth Wyer

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