Short Stories—the long and the short of them

short-storiesI just finished My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead (see our Reading Guide), a volume of 26 short love stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides (author of Middlesex).  It’s been a long time since I sat down to read short stories, and I found it challenging.

As my friend Nan says, reading short stories is “like opening a jewel box.”  She’s right: stories are polished little gems…which is what makes them difficult. They’re written with economy—lacking the luxury of 100′s of pages for a more leisurely expansion of plot and character. Everything is compressed—precise—each word or idea contains significance, pointing to something beyond itself. Stories are packed with meaning.

They also tend to be dark, edgy, with more bite than longer fiction. Stories situate a character, an ordinary individual, in a moment of crisis—and within 2 to 20 pages, say, the author must resolve that crisis. Everything is intensified.

Finally, there’s the stop-and-go quality of a story collection, which as opposed to the long arc of a novel can be discomfiting. You get involved with the story and characters…only to have it end quickly. Then on to the next story—working to come up to speed again. It’s like establishing new friends, over and over, only to keep losing them.

But I found, reading through Eugenides volume, that the stories haunted me, out of all proportion to their length. And that’s the beauty of a short story.

For Book Clubs
Take a break from novels and try our LitCourses—each based on a single story.  The courses are short, fun, and packed with good information. You’ll find a study guide for each story—perfect to help with discussion. Take a look!

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