Tag Archives: short stories

“Ship Fever” – stories by Andrea Barrett

Ship Fever: Stories

This is a collection. I’ve read about half the stories. Excellent! I’m postponing the title story, the longest in this anthology, until I’m ready to deal with disease and woe. Not today…

The back cover says the stories are “set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century”, but at least two are contemporary. The cover also says “…they illuminate the secret passions of those driven by a devotion to, and an intimate acquaintance with, the natural world.” Yes.

Barrett’s writing is concise to the point of compression.

“The Littoral Zone” is contemporary, it’s setting very much like a place where I have vacationed, offshore from Portsmouth, NJ. It tells the story of two scientists falling in love and dismantling their families in order to marry. It reminded me of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. I appreciated its brevity.

I also especially liked “The English Pupil”, about Carl Linnaeus (creator of the binomial nomenclature we use to identify living organisms) in his old age, around the year 1775.

I read Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel several years ago. Loved it!

I plan to read further among Barrett’s books and other short story collections.

“Wild Child and Other Stories” by T C Boyle

Why don’t I read more short stories? I picked up this book at the dentist’s office (see my blog entry of May 28). The title story is what caught my attention – I powered right through it. It was long and dense, not what I expect when I hear the term “short story”.

Then I read “Balto”, written from the viewpoint of a young teenager whose alcoholic father screws up big time, ending up in court in a situation where the testimony of the daughter will determine the father’s fate. And I realized I wanted MORE, I wanted a whole novel, not just this short story. I wanted to know what happened next to this troubled family…

I read “La Conchita” and wanted to know if the epiphany experienced by the alienated protagonist when he saved lives during an unanticipated emergency changes his life. Or does he drift back to his “old normal”?

So THAT’S my problem with short stories. If they are good, I want MORE!

I passed this collection of stories along to a hospitalized friend. Maybe short stories are good for a person living with distractions and interruptions… I hope so. Time for me to check out other work by T C Boyle, including his full length novels.

“The Power of Light – Eight Stories for Hanukkah” by Isaac Bashevis Singer

I thought I might have a chance to read a story aloud at a holiday party, so I browsed my shelves and found The Power of Light, which was published as a children’s book. I picked out two stories. One (“The Parakeet Named Dreidel”) was relatively contemporary, placed in Brooklyn around 1960. The other (“Hershele and Hanukkah”) took place much earlier, in Poland or Russia.

Hanukkah is a time for stories about miracles. There’s no “miracle” in “The Parakeet Named Dreidel”, only what most of us would regard as happy coincidence. “Hershele and Hanukkah” has a different feel. A village woman longs for a child, and is told by a poor, wandering holy man that her child will be conceived after an animal (unspecified) enters her house. She is directed to name her child after the animal. During Hanukkah, a tiny fawn appears at her door, freezing cold and hungry. The family cares for it until spring, and later a healthy boy is born and named Hershele, the Yiddish word for “fawn”. The deer revisits the family year after year, but the wandering beggar is never seen again. The narrator identifies the wanderer as the prophet Elijah, who usually shows himself in the guise of a poor man.

I’ve read enough of Singer to know that not all his stories are warm and fuzzy, but this collection is a delight and I recommend it to all, especially those who have the opportunity to read to children.

Happy Holidays to all!

Short stories?! “Space Dreadnoughts” edited by David Drake

I don’t usually read short stories. It’s too disappointing to like a character or situation and be cut short, when further development has so much appeal.

I also read very little science fiction, and suffer from the feeling that I’m just not finding the right science fiction. In my 18 months or so of blogging, I’ve read and discussed maybe five works of sci fi.

How did I even get this book? I think one of my sons picked it up at a used bookstore, or it may have been in the spare bedroom all along.

So… why did I dive into Space Dreadnoughts, edited by David Drake (1990) with so much enthusiasm? It’s a collection of stories about battles in space. Original dates of publication range from 1940 to 1977. There’s one story each from Issac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, both now deceased. The other authors are unfamiliar to me.

These stories have a certain anachronistic charm. Conquering space with a slide rule! They also deal as much with human nature as with technology. And that’s what appeals to me

The only familiar story was “Superiority” by Arthur C Clarke. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangerous appeal of going overboard for new technology. It should be required reading for all students of computer science!

I checked Amazon out of curiosity. Yes, you can buy a copy of Space Dreadnoughts, new or used, but it is not available for the Kindle.

Read and enjoy!

Flannery O’Connor… Why?

I recently attended a seminar on two stories by Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People. I barely prepared for the discussion. I had read the first story a few years ago. I found a plot summary for the second story on the internet, and read a bit about O’Connor herself. A longish drive to the seminar event with friends completed my “preparation”.

O’Connor is the most depressing author I’ve ever read. In A Good Man is Hard to Find, a family you couldn’t possibly like (bitchy grandmother, henpecked son, bratty children) fall into the hands of the misfit. All are murdered. In Good Country People, an unscrupulous Bible salesman seduces a handicapped (and not very likeable) young woman and steals her prosthetic leg and eyeglasses to satisfy his perverted sexual fetishism. So much for plot…

Ugg. These stories put images into my head that I don’t want there. O’Connor described herself as a “Christian realist”, but I see no sign of any type of redemption in her tales. I was told her stories are allegorical, but I am a decidedly literal minded reader. O’Connor said (approximately) that readers who placed her work in the “horror” genre were generally reacting to the “wrong horror”. So there must be a point to these stories that I don’t get.

BUT these stories kept the seminar group talking! We ran 45 minutes overtime. People had plenty to say, so if one criterion of good literature is that it supports extended discussion, O’Connor’s stories are good. Another occasional criterion of good literature is that it takes people outside of their “comfort zone”. Flannery O’Connor goes WAY outside…

I found myself thinking about Steven King, whose autobiography On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft I discussed in a blog post on December 21, 2013. King embraced the “horror” genre 100%, and it made him rich. He seems to have disdained plot in favor of his “characters”, who, if I understand him correctly, often do things their creator finds surprising. What makes King so sensationally successful? I guess I will only find out by reading him, but for now I am taking a break from fiction.

If YOU have read a Stephen King novel, or seen a movie based on one (like The Shining), I’d love to hear what you thought of it! Meanwhile, I’m not recommending Flannery O’Connor, unless you are looking for something really gothic and creepy.