Friday, June 06, 2014

The focus narrows

kw: book reviews, story reviews, anthologies, short stories

A short story collection that I sometimes look for was published recently: The Best American Short Stories 2013, edited by Elizabeth Strout (The series editor is Heidi Pitlor). Today I read, or partly read and partly skipped, the first 8 stories.

We used to feel very cynical and say of life, "You can't win, you can't break even, you can't even get out of the game." This is attributed to C.P. Snow, but is probably older than that, perhaps by centuries. Post-adolescent pre-adults in every generation tend to be terminally "cool" and clinically cynical. Seven of the first 8 stories in this collection go that one better, trying to outdo Camus, it seems, in their tragic absurdity.

Thus I'll write only of the third story, "Malaria", which came the closest to likability for me. It is, at least, a story of transformation. I suppose you could say that every story tells of some event(s) or other that left the character changed. But typically the changes are nearly undetectable. Here, Orlando has a girlfriend/lover who seems to good for him. I think any boy who isn't a psychopathic narcissist feels that way about a first real girlfriend. Her family is ordinary in some ways, unusual in others, and the family dynamic revolves around her brother George, who may or may not have malaria. George's dynamic with Orlando induces change and growth.

What is life about but transformation? Whether one has any kind of faith or not, growth and change make a life worth something, if anything does. The world is full of "grown-ups" who never truly grew up. They are the real tragedies of human life.

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