It's probably safe to call now: the short story is my favorite form of fiction. I don't pretend to have the best attention span in the world; neither do I imagine that my ability to focus on one thing and stay the course through to the end is above par -- the short story collection allows me to dip in and out of largely self-contained fictional worlds over a given period of time without necessarily having to go back and re-visit the last few pages to remember where I left off. Considering my book polygamist tendencies: this is crucial.
Here are some thoughts on two of my favorite short story collections published this year.
American Housewife, by Helen Ellis.
I read this one over the course of a single trip (two train rides) back to San Francisco from San Jose. I have fond memories of that Sunday afternoon -- my friend Lanny was hosting a launch party for her photography studio in San Jose and had introduced me to her friend Rayna, a fellow Melbournian. Predictably, Rayna and I got along like a house on fire, delighting in the fact of not having to explain ourselves and our slang thanks to a shared Melbourne background and lexicon. It was wonderful.
If there is a theme for 2016, it will be this: The One Where I Met All These Incredible Women I Admire and Want To Be Best Friends With.
Anyway, American Housewife: the blurb on the back of the book is very apt indeed -- "This book is feminism with teeth and a Southern drawl. Red lipstick and a baseball bat." Ellis' characters are older women -- strong, sassy, and steel in their hearts. The stores (and feminism) depicted here are just slightly deranged, yet utterly delightful in its crazy (see: 'Hello! Welcome to Book Club'). In this, there is more than just a whiff of the South, where Ellis is from -- her roots permeate each story from the tongue in cheek 'Southern Lady Code' to the darkly humorous 'Pageant Protection', which is about a kind of witness protection program for child beauty queens.
There is also a story about a man who has a particular talent for fitting women with bras -- the gift runs in the family. There's also another story about a woman who runs her household with the aid of dead doormen.
You see what I mean? Just read this book already.
The Unfinished World, by Amber Sparks
The title story in this collection is a fever dream or a nightmare -- I still can't tell which. The same can actually be said about all the stories in this collection. The individual narratives are fantastical, spanning centuries and continents, yet at the heart of each story is some heartfelt emotion that just hurts in its sincerity and rawness: longing; loss; love; fear.
I had to read this one in slow, measured sips. To do otherwise would be emotionally overwhelming.