Sunday, 26 June 2011

In Defence Of Short Stories #7: Jim Breslin

Before we dive in today, I'd just like to say to any new readers that I'm still on the look out for 'In Defence of Short Story' guest blog posts; I'd particularly be interested in posts covering different aspects of the short story than those so far: maybe discussions of a particularly story, or reflections on reading short stories live to an audience.
But onto the main event - today's guest is Jim Breslin, author of the literary short story collection 'Elephant' (Kindle UK | US | Nook); you can also sample two of the stories in 'We're Not Dog People' (Kindle UK | US). His short stories have been published in Think Journal and Metazen and he is also founder of the West Chester Story Slam. 

For lovers of short stories I can also heartily recommend paying a visit to Jim's blog, where he has set himself the challenge of reading and reviewing the thirty-six short stories long-listed by One Story - some great stories featured, and Jim's comments always make me want to read the stories, or read them again if I've read them before. Oh, and he also Twitters as @jimbrez

Take it away Jim...

Savoring the Short Story

The short story is the greatest of all art forms, but each one should be handled with the greatest of care. A short story is meant to be savored in quiet, read carefully in one sitting. It’s important not to rush through stories as though they are chapters of a novel. One story at a time. Take a break and refill your wine glass. Reflect. Contemplate. A short story provides a glimpse into every day life. They are often sketches of smaller moments, though some portray lengthier spans, even generations. But the ones I believe work best cover the smallest of moments, such as tracing the stretch marks on a wife's legs or eating 
crusty rolls in the back of a bakery while in mourning.
In the digital age we have so much information pecking at our brain. We are trained to read shorter bits of information. We spend our days scanning blurbs on the internet, tweets and Facebook posts. Last summer, we asked my 16-year-old son how his summer reading assignments were going. His response? “I don’t have time to read. I have to keep on top of my text messages.” This is a statement of our times.

Product DetailsWe have moved from the information age to the digital age. Shorter is better. And you want to talk short form? The first place I was published was in David Pogue’s anthology The World According to
Twitter. I believe the short story is making a comeback because. Compared to reading one-line news blurbs on the Huffpo or Drudge, Facebook posts, text messages and tweets, the short story is the new novel. The world can be, should be, held at bay for fifteen or twenty minutes to escape in fiction, to be swept away by a tight and complete story.

Product DetailsFor those that say they prefer a novel, I would like to suggest a new approach. Keep a collection of short stories on your nightstand. Read one story a night before bed, then flip off the light and mull the story over. Think of the symbolism and the themes. What the author was trying to stay? Does it resonate? Swish it around as if at a wine tasting. Smell the oak and the tannins? I think this analogy is very appropriate actually. Although I’m not a wine connoisseur, I can recall five or six wines that, for some reason, were perfect for my taste buds in that moment. A great short story also hits you in the moment. I first read Raymond Carver’s “A Small Good Thing,” while sitting in the back of a van with my brothers and sisters. Nearly thirty years later, I still vividly recall finishing the story, placing the book on my lap, and looking out the window. I didn’t want anyone catching me in tears after reading something so sad and beautiful.
Not many people forget reading Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” or the ending of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” In recent years, I felt my heart stop for a moment at the end of Donald Ray Pollock’s
“Real Life,” and I gasped at Boomer Pinche’s “Bethlehem is Full.” Reading the short story is like pursuing the perfect glass of wine. It can be enjoyed in one sitting, it doesn’t take hours, days or weeks to
get through, yet it resonates within you for a long time. And for this I am grateful.


Dan Holloway said...

I don't know why it is but there's still some kind of equation of length and worth - or even time and effort and worth. It goes back centuries, of course, to the lieder/opera distinction and beyond to elegy and epic. And it's still the same rubbish it was then.

Alain Gomez said...

I liked the point "how it hits you at the moment." That is very true once I thought about it. They have to hit just right too. There's no 300 extra pages to fall in an out of love.

Unknown said...

Knockemstiff is a standout collection, for sure.

I've gotten back into reading novels, but I had the hardest time after years of basically only read short story collections. I was used to having my heart ripped out every 25 pages.

To experience this effect, I really recommend Dan Chaon's Among the Missing.

James Everington said...

Dan you're right, it's bollocks. Things need to be the *right* length, not a specific one.

William & Pamela Deen said...

I'll be the selfish one with my comment. As well liked and enjoyable as I find many short stories, I wrote some of my own for personal reasons. My most recent, Specter of the Covington Fencibles is a biography of my great grandfather. It was a story I had to tell, regardless of whether someone wanted to read it or not.


I didn't sit down and say, "I'm going to write a 10 page story." Or, "I'm going to write a 3000 words story." I write until the story is told and I believe every writer should.

James Everington said...

I think your last sentence pretty much sums up how these things should be William...

Sibel Hodge said...

I love this: "For those that say they prefer a novel, I would like to suggest a new approach. Keep a collection of short stories on your nightstand. Read one story a night before bed, then flip off the light and mull the story over."

I've just taken the first leap from novels into short stories, releasing a short story collection. It was sooo much fun! :)