Short Story Days

I’ve been on a great short story kick, and it seems to be continuing. I used to be a fairly exclusive novel reader, in it for the investment, the sloppiness, and the grandeur. Stories were nice, I thought, but easy. Fool that I was. Now I’m learning that stories are anything but easy and that they’re even better when read in an organized bunch. Some collections that have grabbed me recently include Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, David Gates’s The Wonders of the Invisible World, Lydia Davis’s Samuel Johnson Is Indigant, and Mary Gaitskill’s Because They Wanted To.

Too much to say about Birds of America: the dark humor, the pathos, the surprise of the perfect animal metaphor. (In one story, a dead bat, with its wings folded “like a packed tent,” is compared to a mouse in backpacking equipment!) Every story contains a bird, and every story is, in some sense, about our failure to communicate. Why else do we joke?

The Wonders of the Invisible World is a great Gates book — smart, substance-abusing people in the Northeast (often with rustic country houses) undoing themselves through thought and memory (and substance abuse) alone.

Samuel Johnson Is Indigant. Well, the title — taken from one of Davis’s shortest and worst pieces — is terrible, but the book is nonetheless brilliant. Davis is more of a European storyteller than an American one, dabbling in existentialism and brain teasers, and often in exhilaratingly short form. Are they stories? Are they poems? Does it matter? Her newest book, Varieties of Disturbance, is out this May.

Finally, Gaitskill gets erotic and perverse and really on-target in Because They Wanted To. Why do we fall for odd, unattractive dentists? Why do we sleep with and entangle ourselves with people we don’t even like? The title is Gaitskill’s non-answer, but it is an endlessly intriguing one. After this, I can’t wait to read Veronica. Even if it is a novel.

— Katherine Hill
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