The Cork Board

The Short Story Problem…


I love short stories. I believe that as an art form it can be greatly under-appreciated. (That’s clumsy, but you know what I mean.) There is a skill to creating a short story that hooks you –holds you – and then, the toughest of all, lingers in your memory as a great novel would.

I have read hundreds of short stories in my time and have developed an appreciation for them that many of my fellow reading buddies can’t grasp.

… Raymond Carver …

When I suggested “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver as the next read for our Book Club (this was some time ago) my friends read it but didn’t get it. I trudged home with a heavy heart. My attempts at enlightenment failing.

Collections linger in my mind like memories of favourite meals. Fi once gave me a complete collection by Isaac Babel for Christmas and I read it during a long cold winter. It seemed appropriate. I loved it, but I know I can’t share that with my friends because they just don’t get short stories.

… Isaac Babel …

But then again, I also have a problem remembering some of those I have enjoyed the most. These are often by little known struggling authors, and I’m ashamed to say, I can’t remember their titles or the author. If they had been novels, would I have recalled the key details more easily?

I recall one, I think called “Big Sky” by ? , about a secret murder in the English fens. Loved it.

… The English Fenland …

…another where the a group of youngsters played dangerously by throwing glass bottles at the head of their friend, who wears a protective, shatterproof welding mask …

… or another, where an old lady returns home from her Bridge Club or something, and disturbs a violent burglar in her house, and she verbally ties him in knots, thereby saving herself and her belongings …

… and so these images stick. But I’m damned if I can recall who wrote them or the title of the story.

I have promised myself therefore, that the next time I read a short story that makes me go “Wow” , I shall begin my Ultimate List….. and then I’ll know where to find them again…. and create my own Ultimate Collection.

Any suggestions ?

(Oh, and apparently this is my 150th post on SMM, and I’m a quiet chap really.   🙂   )

21 thoughts on “The Short Story Problem…

  1. What defines a short story(length)? I ask because I read a great little book, “We the Animals” (128 pgs) your club may enjoy..
    Have you tried “googling ” those pieces you recall..sometimes you get lucky..

    1. I’ll search out “We the animals”. Thanks, Lynne. I’m no arbiter but I would say 128 pages is getting to Novella length in my book. Anything up to, say, 70 pages or so is a short, I think, anyway.

  2. Short Stories are hard to do. It’s not anything like writing a novel length story. You have to wrap it all quickly with a 1-2 punch.

    I tried asking for one line starters for short stories on my blog about a month ago. I got about 5 from readers. I wrote 3 stories and am still ruminating on the other 2. Just those 3 wore me out. 🙂

    1. You’re right. It’s a different skill and a tough act to pull off. At least you got 3 stories out of your blog shout. How about another one ……….
      “Al drained his glass and placed it right back in the centre of the mat, never taking his eye off the dime that had been dropped by the door……… “

  3. I remember reading ‘Gods Debris’ – not the longest story I have ever read, in fact – I am sure it may actually have been one of the shortest. However – notably, it is the ‘short story’ that is forever indelibly imprinted on my memory.

  4. Aren’t blogs a great place to discover and/or write short stories? Each post needs a beginning, middle and end… each one has to catch you and hold on in just a few hundred words. Maybe that’s why I love blogging so much. It challenges me to write with so few words and hone the craft of keeping it brief. Often the posts I read that stay with me throughout the day are short stories taken to high art.

    1. That’s a great point, Susan, and thanks for commenting here. I try to keep my posts to 500 words or less and when I see that word count rise I chop away with my “Word Axe” . I never really considered that I was subconsciously honing my editing skills too.

  5. Great post!
    I absolutely love short stories… Carson McCullers wrote a lot that I like. I have a book with short stories from the jazz age… Can’t recall the title, I know there is at least one by Fitzgerald in there.
    You should post your list of shorts as you make it. = )

    1. Thank you for the endorsement ! I’ll check out Carson McCullers (and I really would like to know about your jazz age collection – that sounds great). Posting the list up here is a good idea and I’ll do that. I think I’ll start by trying to track down the ones I loved. Stay tuned.

      1. As promised… The book is “Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories” the book of short stories by McCullers is entitled “The Ballad of The Sad Cafe” it’s a compilation of he short stories. Anyways hope you enjoy.
        I will stay tuned to see what you recommend.

  6. I’m heavily into short-ish stories these days, and think it’s a fantastic genre.
    Been reading mostly subcontinental literature though, some Rabindranath Tagore….a bit of Ismat Chughtai, ‘In other rooms, other wonders’, by Daniyal Mueenuddin…and of course, ‘The Wandering Falcon’.
    I like how they set your mind a-whirl in so little time, and leave you delightfully unfulfilled at the end 😛 Hahah.
    Congratulations on your 150th post Alan! 🙂

    1. Thanks Mun, 150 posts seems a lot, doesn’t it? You sum up the short story so well. Yes, they leave “delightfully unfulfilled” and yet some how satisfied. I bought “The Wandering Falcon” last time you mentioned it and enjoyed it very much. I shall seek out Daniyal Mueenuddin too, now.

  7. Oh, I hear you! I tend not to read short stories, because I do find them very hard to remember — even the good ones. The ones I remember best are the ones I’ve discussed in writing classes, like Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing” and Aimee Phan’s “We Should Never Meet” (that one sparked a particularly energetic debate). I’m always loath to admit I don’t read them; it seems to be the literary equivalent of declaring I can’t stand Bach, or something along those lines (for the record, I love Bach). I really like your idea of compiling an Ultimate List. Maybe I’ll do the same… if I ever get around to reading more short fiction.

    I know there were some I really liked in The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction, though I’d have to get my hands on a copy of the anthology to tell you which ones. There was one about a father and daughter who wrote color names for a paint company… and another one about a couple who collected items which washed up on the beach.

    And I read another one fairly recently… let me see if I can find it. Aha! The full text is online: Sigrid Nunez, “Airport Story,” in The Threepenny Review.

    1. Hey, thanks for the recomemdnations, Lisa. I like your notion that admitting to not reading short stories is a bit like confession time. When I recommended “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver for our book club so many didn’t even finish it. I walked away in despair.

      1. Ah, book clubs… I didn’t realize until my friends and I started one in LA that there’s no telling who will enjoy a book and who won’t. I eagerly recommended one book I love, and no one else cared much for it. Everyone else thought another book was a major accomplishment, but I was not a fan. After my initial “how can we possibly stay friends?!” reaction, I resigned myself — but have been warier of recommending books since then. ;b Our group at least did its best to try everything though; that Arabic fiction anthology was our first pick (and it was quite a lot to tackle!).

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