I’ve been reading a lot of short stories recently. I started the summer with Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver. (It seems that he’s mandatory reading for MFA students, if only so you can join in the conversation.) “Fat” is my favorite. It’s masterful how Carver weaves a story within a story. The sentences in his stories are so simple I sometimes feel a little tricked for being affected. But I almost always am.
I also read Miranda July’s collection No one belongs here more than you at the recommendation of another writer friend. I read all the stories in a 24 hour period. I kept trying to put the book down and do something productive (we were in the midst of moving at the time), but it was no use. Her writing is unflinching, but not self-consciously so. Try “The Swim Team” from that collection. It’s a good way to ease into her work to see if you like it. “I Kiss A Door” is good too, but it’s one of the most haunting and disturbing stories I’ve read. Sometimes I have that problem that Anne Lamott so beautifully wrote about in her book Bird by Bird where I imagine someone is looking over my shoulder and tsk tsking at a word or a subject matter I’m trying to tackle. But July clearly does not struggle with that (or has somehow managed to overcome it.)
And then I moved on to some short stories by Amy Hempel. I like her, but not quite as much. I feel like she leaves too much space for the reader. I don’t like stories where everything is tied up very neatly with a bow at the end. But I also don’t want to feel like I’ve been given all the power to interpret a story with no roadmap to guide me, and there were times with Hempel that’s how I felt. But the simplicity of her sentences is incredible. “Nashville Gone to Ashes” from Reasons to Live was my favorite. On the surface it’s about a widow and all the animals she lives with, all of whom were brought into the house by her recently deceased veterinarian husband.
Earlier this month I read the short story collection Last Night by James Salter. If you haven’t read him, please do. I liked every single story in that collection, but the title story “Last Night” will stop you cold. I foresee re-reading his stuff again someday.
Currently I’m reading Deborah Eisenberg. Like Hempel, I like her, but there are times I feel like I’m just not getting her. (If anyone out there is a huge Hempel or Eisenberg fan, please let me know why. I love hearing why people love the writers they love.) “What It Was Like, Seeing Chris” from Transactions in a Foreign Currency was good, but it also made me very, very paranoid about having a daughter. (The title story “Transactions in a Foreign Currency” was also memorable.)
I’m also (very slowly) reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It’s well-written, obviously, but it’s not a “grab you tight and keep you reading late into the night” kind of book. It unfolds slowly and deliberately, which is a nice thing to learn craft-wise. There have been a few times I’ve been ready to give up, and then I’ll come across a paragraph that sucks me back in.