These bite-sized tales punch well above their weight and will have you questioning why you would waste time on full-length novels.
To read Checkhov’s short stories is to be plunged into a completely different realm. Although written over a century ago, the characters and their emotions and struggles resonate as clearly as a church bell. Although this is not a modern collection of short stories, the emotional depth of the stories taps into the very core of what it means to be a living breathing human being. Chekhov’s short stories transcend time, place, culture – I would consider this to be a masterpiece of the short story form.
Short tales that are loosely related to each other thematically. The stories take place in the inner wilderness (of disillusionment, the passage of time, the unpredictability of life) and outer wilderness of a setting in the Canadian landscape. In Atwood’s genius hands, the banal everyday occurrences between people are turned into extraordinary metaphors and insightful, prescient, revealing human interactions.
Faber’s stories always skate on the edge of darkness and take on the patina of a surreal waking nightmare. They are electrifying and inventive. Each one is dense enough to be an entire world unto itself. All of these brief stories are diverse nature and subject matter. We meet school teachers comforting traumatised children, we hang out with an advertising executive in Melbourne who takes a job in an X-rated bookstore, we endure the loneliness and hard graft of being a young Polish immigrant working in a restaurant in London. All of these stories manage to be compelling, unconventional, darkly inventive and have a beating human heart at their core.
Rose Tremain is better known for her historical fiction than her short stories. Such as the brilliant Restoration and Music & Silence, both set in the 17th Century. Although these stories probably don’t measure up to her better known masterpieces, The American Lover is still compulsively readable and enjoyable. There is still a sense of period and place which she does so well. Her characters recount their memories of sexual and romantic longing, embarrassing regrets and missed opportunities to connect which still haunt their souls. She uncovers a dazzling array of human experiences related to love and romantic trysts.
Murakami produces a unique flavour of Japanese magic realism, he has pretty much created a genre all of his own. Although he isn’t really known for his short stories, this collection deserves full investigation by any self-confessed Murakami fan.
The stories are themed loosely around men who are in one way or another estranged from the women they love. We are introduced to a man whose girlfriends keep killing themselves, another man who reflects on his dead wife’s love affairs. And Kafka’s Metamorphosis gets a reboot in one of his stories, with Murakami’s interpretation of the protagonist Gregor Samsa.
Written in 1960 – there are turns of phrase that are delightfully quaint to hear but this is still absolutely a timeless book. There is pitch black humour, a strange sense of menace to the stories, long shadows and unusual characters who find themselves in absolutely outrageous and unsettling situations. You will laugh, gasp and cough up your coffee while reading this.
Kate Atkinson achieved great fame for her book Life After Life. This is one of her earlier and lesser known collections of short stories. I have to admit I never got into Life After Life, so I was a bit dubious about whether or not I would like this one. However, I was absolutely transfixed by this mesmerising, delightful, dark and bizarre selection of stories. The stories duck and weave in and out of time-shifts in Ancient Greece and modern day Scotland. This is sharp, witty and urbane writing with an ancient Greek twist, it’s really enjoyable.