Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

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Dewey #813.08 Short Story Collections

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,E books & E readers,Fiction,Short Stories on April 1, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20180401_131154.jpgWriting short stories takes a special kind of author, one who cam compress language to its densest form, one who can masterfully piece together a believable story arc in just a few pages – They need to be precise in their delivery and they need to capture the attention of their reader quickly. Single serving fiction, a short story, is the perfect for for our digital age.

I first discovered my passion for short stories at University – In my first year I had a favorite spot in the James Hight library which happened to be amongst the English Literature ( Dewey #813.08 ) stacks, not a subject I studied but I liked the view, the quiet and the short stories.

When I first started work for Borders in 2005 Penguin published 70 pocket sized editions to celebrate their 70th birthday. Most of the selections were excerpts from larger works that were characteristic of the depth and breadth of the penguin stable of authors but the collection also included a number of short stories by very well recognized authors; Roald Dahl, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Dave Eggers and John Steinbeck.

I bought #69 John Steinbeck’s Murder as I was in the midst of delving into ‘Of Mice and Men’ and needed a break. . . ( I have no idea why I chose the same author. . . ) I devoured the collection in an afternoon and it has been a little book that has moved house with me too many times for me to count.

First published in 1938 as part of a larger collection; ‘The Long Valley’, Steinbeck’s short stories ( The Chrysanthemums, Breakfast, The vigilante and The Murder ) are full of the unpleasant side of life experienced by the suffering poor in 1930s America. He had the ability to paint a picture of the the grim reality, the gritty, the nasty and the downright ugly. Steinbeck provided a powerful voice to those with no voice in the heart of depression.

Steinbeck’s titular tale, The Murder, tells the story of a Salinas Valley farmer who marries an eastern european woman, while at first they appear happy, their marriage suffers as a result of a massive cultural divide and eventually they drift apart. I won’t spoil the ending but you can probably guess where the story goes by the title. . .

The Chrysanthemums is about a woman living a stifling existence on her husband’s ranch. This narrative is unusual, it forces the reader to think about what is not said, there is a tone, a dull intonation that runs through the story – On the surface the story seems so banal, so uninteresting, yet it is such an important study of the female protagonist trapped in an unequal and restrictive marriage but who’s strength and vitality shine through.

Women were usually one of two things in Steinbeck’s work; a prostitute or a downtrodden appendage, a wife who is by all means and purpose a possession – although written with dignity and compassion, still unfulfilled, desolate and lonely. Steinbeck creates incredibly detailed environment with such an economy of words, he has such an understated writing style which put even the novice reader at complete ease. His stories are so unsettling and so powerful they resonate even today, 80 years later.

Next time you’re in a bookstore, think about trying a collection of short stories, think about stepping out of your comfort zone, I promise it would be worth your while.

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Heather, The Totality. Brilliant.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,Short Stories on January 21, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: ,

IMG_3151Matthew Weiner’s first foray into fiction is one of the most striking works I have read, its very clever, very odd, but very clever. At 134 pages long it is more of a novella but still packs an enormous punch – a punch that comes in the most unusual format. The novel is written in a series of short choppy paragraphs with little to no dialogue – you will either love or hate Weiners first work.

Weiner sets his characters on what seems to be an inevitable collision course. New York 80s Power couple Mark & Karen Breakstone and their daughter – the eponymous, Heather, are on a trajectory headed straight for Newark born & bred, raised & incarcerated; Bobby Klasky. They are a collection of people tumbling towards an irrevocable breakdown, and in places, it is terrifying to read.

Weiner establishes the characters histories and their intentions; his writing has echoes of a Woody Allen-esque movie, a little un-funny and quite banal. He establishes, quite early, an underlying feeling of dread – there is something just awful coming but you don’t know what. Bobbys menace and malovelence just grows with each passing paragraph and the way in which Weiner creates the almost unbearable tension is beautiful, compelling and disturbing.

Weiners creative history ( a writer on The Sopranos then writer, creator, director and executive producer of Mad Men and most recently writer, creator, and executive producer of The Romanoffs – an anthology series expected to premiere in the northern spring of 2018 ) is second to none, he has crafted quality television and I wonder whether Heather: the totality was an experiment to see if his writing genius translated onto the page – I think it did, but you need to read it to see for yourself.

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Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed; Me? OK. If you say so.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction,Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

img_3145.jpgWandering through Waterstones flagship store in Piccadilly I was in heaven, jaw dropping, mind boggling heaven. Six floors of books, 200,000 unique titles. I knew I had to own one, just one, but which one? After picking up and putting down title after title I came across a spine that stood out to me; Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. What? As I plucked the book off the shelf, I read its subtitle; sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids. That was it, that was the book. Done. Dusted.

At 43 I know I will never have children, but then again I’ve known that since I was 16 or 17. I will never have children. I have no inclination to change my mind. If I have a ‘biological clock,’ it is well and truly broken. What else could explain the crawling horror I feel at the prospect of pregnancy? Nope, no babies for me.

Giving voice to that choice, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by sixteen writers on their decision not to have children. From women & men, straight, gay – the essays touch on a wide variety of reasons why becoming a parent may not be for everyone. From careers, to families, childhoods and illness, each writer describes the journey to their decision.

As the title suggests, the accusations flung at those who decide to be childless range from selfishness and shallowness to self-absorption—when in fact, perhaps the opposite is true.

I would highly recommend this book not just to people who have decided not to have kids, but even more so to all those who do have kids. I think it’s important for those who are parents to realize that their lifestyle is not the only valid choice, nor are all those who make the choice not to have kids selfish, shallow, or self-absorbed! It is simply one of many life choices.

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Men explain things to me. . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction,Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , ,

IMG_3141I dislike starting the review of a work I enjoyed with a negative but I would like to offer an alternative way in which to read this book, Solnits collection of essays does not need to be read together or even at once, take it slow, read one essay at time, devour the writing and then take time to think on it.

Having said that, Men explain things to me and other essays is a collection of feminist writings which really didn’t go where I thought it would. Reading the collection as a whole I was expecting a common thread, a connection – something that bound them together, perhaps an overarching theme. There really is only one; feminism and its just not strong enough, its an obtuse connection and its not sharp enough, it’s too disjointed and disconnected to work as a whole.

In the recent past Solnit’s writings on the environment, gender, human rights and violence against women, all of which goes back decades, seems suddenly and remarkably prescient. Solnit’s titular essay ‘Men explain things to me’ tells the story of a 2003 party at which Solnit experienced a man attempt to explain her latest book to her without realizing she was its author. The term mansplaining has been in use within popular lexicon since 2009 and Solnit is credited with its creation, although her essay never actually uses the term. It is a word that was needed because so many women recognized an experience they had never been able to vocalize before, they just needed someone, Solnit, to define it.

The internet being what it is, the essay was strip-mined for that one idea and very little attention was paid to where Solnit takes it next, she turns a personal account into the discussion of the same phenomenon on a global scale. Women who speak out and then find their testimony being downgraded or dismissed (the female FBI agent whose warnings about al-Qaeda were ignored; the women who need a male witness to corroborate their rape; the writers and politicians whose anger is read as “shrill” and “hysterical’), this may indeed be the most important conversation we need to have.

Don’t get me wrong, this opening essay is outstanding, and there are others which make this title well worth reading but perhaps just one essay, one subject at a time. Solnits writing meanders along, she makes stunning statements that stick with you but then goes on to contradict herself and somewhat condescend her audience. Her writing can be a little tedious If the subject matter has not grabbed your interest, but overall the essays are well written and well thought out.

Solnit is unflinchingly honest even when, especially when, it threatens the patricharcial narrative. Her writing is accessible, confrontational and deals with a wide variety of difficult subjects. The final essay “Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force” is the second essay that really stands out to me, its subject is hope. Solnit writes about the history of feminism, not that it is at a point where a full and frank history can be recorded but to show how much change has been facilitated in the effort to change something very old, something very ingrained, something that might indeed take a very long time to change.

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it would have been better for him if he’d died. . . . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Short Stories,YA literature on June 25, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , ,

This title is only 80 pages long and can easily be read cover to cover in one sitting. It is aimed at older teens and is a psychological thrill ride wound up in a short story. It is part of a collection of Dyslexia friendly titles produced by Barrington stoke. ( https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/ ) What makes a book dyslexia friendly you ask? Well, the typeface, the layout and the colour of the paper stock all make it much much much easier for someone with dyslexia to read.

Jon for short is the story of a 14 year old boy recounting a grizzly hospital visit in which he faces confusion, turmoil,  malevolence and even amputation.  Whilst in hospital he is sedated and under sedation he repeats the same dream, his dream gets progressively worse throughout the story and the chapter is repeated whilst revealing a little more each time we encounter it – an utterly brilliant story telling device!

Blackman’s writing is superb, the right amount is left unsaid building the horror through until the last page. The writing is eerie, its fairly dark and probably not for the fainthearted, but her ability to create an un-put-down-able suspense filled short story is second to none. The sense of foreboding, the out of left field plot twist, the creepy way in Jon’s choice of words helps us create those characters in our minds and the amazing illustrations that exist throughout the story, ( Vladimir Stankovic ) make it something that teens with a penchant for horror really should pick up.

The reason Jon is in hospital will chill you to the core. . . if you’ve never read a short story or a YA title then this could well be the one for you!

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“High heels on the mossy path. Tippity-tap. Toddle on.”

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction,Short Stories on May 7, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged:

CBR9 16Hilary Mantel, twice winner of the Man Booker Prize, released a collection of short stories – titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and other stories –  in 2014 and I have finally finished the compilation.

This collection peruses a host of difficult topics; misogyny, culture shock, adultery,  alternate realities and much more. While the subject matter is different across each story there are similarities that occur throughout the collection; Mantel has a great eye for the minutiae  of suburban life, the dreck of urban reality and even the bleak but often unsettling sunshine of the very English countryside.

There is no doubt Mantel is a master storyteller – every word moves her story forward and every word she uses is chosen and serves a purpose, sometimes, even more than one. I wouldn’t say her writing is ‘wordy’ because, well it isn’t, every word is valuable, Her writing is taut, controlled and acerbic.

The Plot can at times be secondary to the dialogue, and sometimes, even to the environment in which the action is taking place but when this happens it is all in the name of advancing the story, it is done with a  greater purpose in mind. The denouement in most of the collection appears a little forced which can come across as unsatisfying but on a second read is actually completely genius.

Overall I was underwhelmed with Mantel’s collection, I thought she could’ve made more of a number of the stories. While the titular story was provocative, profound, funny and by far the best of the lot the rest were still above par. I went into this the first time round with very high expectations and was disappointed but on that second reading, I loved every word.