This edition of Weekly Geeks is all about keeping things short--whether that means short stories or skinny novels. I love reading this kind of text, taking the letters in as if I were inhaling with one deep breath then slowly exhaling as I contemplate all I have absorbed. Often short stories, which I tend to read much more slowly than novels, stay with me longer than even chunky novels. In a short story, so much craftsmanship has to go into so few words. I love the laser focus on theme or character transformation that short stories often have.
A few of my favorite stories:
1. "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker
A story exploring the meaning of heritage and roots. Told from the perspective of a traditional Black mother in the 1970s, this is the story of a visit home by her daughter, a young woman who has rejected the rural southern traditions of her immediate family and instead--at their expense--embraced an abstract connection with her African roots. (If you are a quilter or other crafter, this is especially a story for you.)
2. "Why I Live at the PO" by Eudora Welty
A very funny retelling of the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son--told from the responsible sister's side. It is a story about pride, place, and the frustrations that arise in family connections as well as the complicated forms of love those connections provide. The story ends as the narrator tries to makes sense of all the changes that have occurred--and is enough of an unreliable narrator that the reader sees her pain and foresees reconciliation of some kind. Try reading this story aloud!
3. "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor
Joy Hopewell, after loosing her leg to an accident, rejects the promise of her name and changes it to Hulga, the ugliest name she can find. She acquires a PhD in philosophy and embraces a morally smug form of nihilism, claiming she has no illusions: "I'm one of those people who see through to nothing." When a naive (and dishonest) Bible salesmen meets her, he seduces her--and then leaves her, as they say, without a leg to stand on. He shifts the terrain upon which she stands and the experience works like lightening to force her to reconsider her beliefs and the meaning of her life.
Occasionally it occurs to me that these authors echo the voices of my family members when I was growing up in the South. My relatives were all people who loved to sit around and tell stories about their lives and their friends--stories full of humor and wisdom and exaggeration and a deep commitment to place.
As I write this post, I also see that these three stories are all about women who separate themselves from their home--either physically or culturally--and then have to grapple with their relationship to that home. The characters see themselves as superior, but in each case there is something in the stories that knocks them off that attitude. I wonder why this appeals to me, this daughter of the South who left for a fancy education in the North but doesn't truly fit in either place, the elder sister who is sure she knows best?
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Right now I'm reading a forthcoming book of stories by Margaret Drabble written over the course of her own maturing and the maturing of feminism. The collection is absolutely fascinating. More about that this soon.
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What are some of your favorite stories? Who are some of your favorite short-story writers? As Mel U of The Reading Life suggested, short stories are a terrific way to give myself a little break from my lifetime reading plan without losing my focus. I'm always on the lookout for suggestions!