June 22, 2009

Short is not a four letter word


Well, no, because "short" has five letters. What I refer to is the category of short stories. The reading of short stories,in regards to my psyche, for the most part (there are exceptions), has been approached tentatively, with a stop-motion kind of hesitancy. Hard to explain.....maybe because I viewed them as a sort of pseudo-substantive piece of work. A wanna-be novel. But they are not. Just like short films or ads aren´t trying to be movies - short stories are well, short stories. A genre unto and whole in itself.

An upcoming exam, with the forced coercion exams tend to have, induced me to read four short stories. I thought to myself: "oh brother. Get it over with. Read em, summarize them. Done." Of course there are short stories and there are short stories. Heart of Darkness is considered a short story and its 120 pages long. But that took me ages to get through.

Dorothy Parker´s collection vary between 7 and 50 pages. "Horsie" was brilliantly funny, shiny and brittle, crystal glasses filled with pearl colored champagne, meeting with the clear ping of wit.
"I love horses, myself," he said to Camilla, who lay all white and languid on her apricot satin chaise-longue. "I´m a fool for a horse. Ah, what a noble animal, darling! All I say is, nobody has any business to go around looking like a horse and behaving as if it were all right. You don´t catch horses going around looking like people, do you?"

And another Parker.... "The Waltz"........"here I was sitting, feeling so sorry for the poor girl he was dancing with. And now I´m going to be the poor girl. "

Despite sparkling gathering of words in a carefully crafted concise plot, I don´t know quite why I have such an antipathy toward them - maybe because they are often quite sad and fill me with melancholy and dread. I mean, one grows up on short stories, right? Fairy tales, fables, parables are all short. But the difference between hearing a short story when you are little, which, naturally, you don´t consider short because you are short yourself, is that usually, someone tells you the story. And when its over, you can say: "Again!"

No such option exists as a grown up. I mean, a human option. At least, no one has ever read me a short story yet. Somehow the abbreviation of a tale takes it beyond a fleeting sadness - its like losing a friend or a lover. Whereas novels, big fat ones, stay with you longer, keeping you company for weeks. Such lovely, warm, wooly comfort. I think thats the crux of it for me - short stories make me afraid of the abject loneliness I feel right down to the 5,4,3,2..... end.

Nevertheless, my voluntarily-induced-because-I-choose-to-study confrontation with some short stories are valiantly attempting to irradiate the shadowy closet I like to hide in.

Ok - these four short stories I have now officially read and I´ve summarized them with an excerpt from each respective story (one just cannot use an acronym for short story..........shame.......ss.......no, that does not work.....

Six Feet of the Country by Nadine Gordimer
The Prophet´s Hair by Salman Rushdie
My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi
P is for Post-Black by Diran Adebayo


The authors are all post-modern (I guess thats a rather stuffy,clinical way of saying all are still alive and writing) and the colored thread marrying these stories is an entwined,entangled knot of race and religion.

Six Feet of the Country:
"Unfortunately, it was not impossible to get the body back". Around this event, stated matter-of-factly, as dry as the brush, revolves the story of a young man who died while walking from Rhodesia to the farm where his brother works and the white owners of the farm, who with their unbarred windows and non-gun owning state-of-mind, try and help as best they can whilst living within the stench of apartheid.

"They´re so seldom on the giving rather than the receiving side, poor devils, they don´t really know how to hand money to a white man"

Somehow, the oppressive wrongness, despite ones´s best intentions, eventually, "color" all who participate, even while they think they may not be racist.

The Prophet´s Hair:
"Where may I hire a thief?" Is there a dichotomy between a thief and a moneylender? Are there parallels between fanaticism that propels greed of possession and greed of religion? I liked it. Written like a fairy tale. Besides, there was a happy ending. Well, not for the moneylender´s family...they all died. But the blind lady could see, and the kids who were crippled at birth could suddenly walk. So, yes, made me quite happy.

My Son The Fanatic:
"Tell me what is happening!, the father demands. " A father watches as his twenty-something son, still living at home, distances himself further and further from all his father has sought to give him. Crucial to know is this: the father is a Pakistani immigrant in London. The son was born and raised in London. And the father lives in a secular way, integrating himself and his family into the British way of life. The son retreats to Islam. His father doesn´t understand and in his helplessness resorts to violence.


P is for Post-Black:
"There were a lot of blondes, a lot of light-skinned girls. In thigh-split dresses and clingy things and glossy hair - it was serious high-maintenance in there" Fun, kinda cool and breezy enough to ripple deeper waters, I guess the motif of this is............errr......I really don´t know. That blacks should only date blacks? Not quite sure about this one.

Summary of this post: read short stories. Lots to think about in a fraction of the time needed for a phone-book thick novel.

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