Monday Musing: The Subtle Magic Of Short Stories

For as widely as I like to read, it’s extremely rare that I decide to dip into a short story collection. Unless written by one of my favourite authors, I struggle when it comes to generating enthusiasm for short fiction. Yet, I’m well aware of the incredible skill that it takes to write short stories well. It requires that an author do almost everything achieved by a great novel – generating engaging plot points, characters, themes, and some degree of resolution – with only a fraction of the space that a novel affords. I’ve seen the struggle that this can entail first-hand since my husband is a writer of short stories. While I respect the art, however, I’ve always found myself incredibly intimidated by literary collections. It’s that same sense of ‘I just know this will go totally over my head‘ that I feel whenever I contemplate throwing myself into some poetry. But, with a view to spending 2019 reading more diversely, I’ve been keen to put some of this fear to the side and really allow myself to get stuck in to reading short fiction.

Although only a few days into February, it’s already been a month of short stories. I’ve just wrapped up Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds (one of the most anticipated books of 2019 – review coming on Friday) and am currently reading through Jorge Luis Borge’s Labyrinths. Spending a concentrated period of time working on these collections has been a bit of a revelation. Although I won’t be throwing my novels in the bin any time soon, I have certainly come to understand the subtle magic of letting go that short fiction requires of its readers. Short stories don’t allow you the comfortable indulgence of 300 pages and it can be an effort to permit such an array of plots, characters, and themes to pass by in just a handful of pages. However, I’m coming to appreciate the space that short fiction gives for readers to just let the stories happen, relatively free of expectation or attachment. Short fiction is its own package, without need of elaboration, and these story collections are a beautiful lesson in permitting untold universes to coexist, self-contained and yet subtly connected.

Jorge Luis Borges


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