Sunday, June 08, 2014

A few more I could bear

kw: continued review, short stories

A couple days ago I wrote of one among the first seven stories in The Best American Short Stories 2013, edited by Elizabeth Strout. Here I have read eight more; I completed half of them, and two are worth mention:

  • "A Voice in the Night" by Steven Millhauser, written as trios of vignettes, offers the author's insights into the story of Samuel when he first heard the voice of God in the night, and uses them to trace the inner life of a young Jew, affected by the story, growing out of his faith as he ages.
  • "Philanthropy" by Suzanne Rivecca at first seemed just another ugly story of the mean streets, but draws a reader with its authentic voice into the heart of a reformed druggie now sheltering others who are reforming, or variously trying to, as she struggles to obtain financial support for her work.
As I read the first parts of some of these stories, I began to think of Hemingway. He was a pioneer of using a heady mixture of lyric writing and gritty realism. The stories I'm thinking of began with "The Indian Camp", where we are introduced to Nick Adams. It is a bit hard to stomach, but has something worthwhile to say about coming of age. But to my memory, the Nick Adams stories went downhill, as Nick became more of an anti-character and his life became pointless. The 24 stories don't depict 24 "comings of age", but a series of events that show Nick learning less and less from each "life lesson". The growing cloud of despair that hovers behind them seems to reflect a growing apathy or despair in Hemingway that led him to suicide.

It seems that many try to emulate Hemingway without understanding what he was doing at his best, nor the trap of following him off his private cliff. Such authors compete with one another in an anti-chic chicness of nihilism. The stories are skilfully written but have nothing useful to tell us. Thankfully, at least these two (above) of the eight (stories 8-15 in the collection) actually arrive somewhere useful.

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