They are an art form unto themselves, following different rules, logic and styles to other types of literature and, best of all, if you’re not enjoying one it’s all over soon enough and you can move onto another.
But even knowing all of this, and with glowing praise from newspapers, magazines and authors (including my beloved Dave Eggers) on the front and back covers, I was still blown away with how good Miranda July‘s 2005 debut ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You‘ was/is.
As you can see from the website she set up to promote the book, she has a quirky, indie sense of humour which comes flooding out in the 16 tales told in this compilation, but it is a humour interwoven with an array of emotions and issues: ball-shrinking awkwardness, (‘Making Love In 2003‘ is the best excuse for paedophilia since ‘Lolita‘ only in a more sci-fi, hilarious way, if you can picture that); feminism; social awkwardness; sexual awkwardness; physical awkwardness, (it occurs to me, writing this, that there is a lot of awkwardness in there, which I probably should have guessed given the title…but awkwardness, as fans of ‘The Office‘ will know, is often amusing); and underlying it all, love.
Where we find love, how we find love, how it finds us, how it avoids finding us, what we put up with to convince ourselves we have it – these are all things you may learn reading this book. But most of all, you will have fun.
At the 2013 Hay Literature Festival I had the honour of attending a talk by the aforementioned George Saunders using a wonderful Donald Barthelme short story to deconstruct the art of the short story. (I am delighted to find that the piece itself is free to read online here). It was all about the journey and not the ending, the author leading the reader to new, unexpected places, and doing it in under incredibly restrictive parameters. (I think. I don’t remember it too well, and don’t have time to go back and listen to it, which you can do if you feel like, here).
If you haven’t read many short stories, you could do a lot worse than start here.