Quarterly Stories: Spring 2018

Endicott, Manto, King, Bruneau and Lispector

Short Stories in January, February and March

Whether in a dedicated collection or a magazine, these stories capture a variety of reading moods.

This quarter, I returned to two favourite writers and also explored three new-to-me story writers.

Although I’ve enjoyed her novels (Good to a Fault, The Little Shadows and Close to Hugh) and her novella (New Year’s Eve), “Lynch Law” is the first short story by Marina Endicott that I remember reading.

Seemingly based on Superintendent Richard Burton Deane’s memoir, on an incident recorded from his years spent in service in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the story recounts an incident from a February evening in 1895.

The incident recorded is an act of violence; the story is told from the wife’s perspective.

“We had been married a fair while by then and I did not want him to be dead – just less feckless and disagreeable.”

It’s a plotty thing, to be sure, but there is still room for the kind of interior musing which Endicott readers will appreciate, along with the occasional bit of figurative language which also reveals character and sometimes, as in the following example, adds to the rough and ragged atmosphere:

“My mind caught as a skirt might snag on a nail, but I still got off the train. So, you see, I chose this.”

Questions of agency and responsibility, motivation and inclination: “Lynch Law” is an absorbing and satisfying story which was published in “The Walrus” in November 2017. (Follow the link to read!)

Although technically a collection of linked stories, Carol Bruneau’s work will appeal to readers who are prepared for a little light assembly work, for the women’s stories are told in their own time. “Our chit-chat often misses a beat, but I’m used to that,” Mary Beth observes.

Cape Breton is a character in its own right, although the women have come from away. The language is uncluttered, which sets the occasional simile apart for admiration. The delphiniums are “blue like the ocean and the sky mixed together, like bright ink swirled in a glass of water” and Ellen’s “round bottom [is] folding like bread dough over the stool”.

They spiral across four generations, these women: each voice insistent and distinct but also rooted in a community of tale-tellers. Readers could easily draw a family tree from the succinct descriptions of lineage, but each story can be appreciated on its own terms, offering a resolution, often acceptance and occasionally hope.

Carol Bruneau observes that “the beauty of things gets lose somehow, worn like the polish off the floor” and these stories work to preserve that beauty.

Contents: Milk, The Accident, After the Angel Mill, Resurrection, Meet Me at the Ex, The Game of Love, Keeping House, Home Fires, Any Night of the Week, The Driver, The Pink Teacup

It was Mel’s enthusiasm for this author which urged me in the direction of Clarice Lispector’s work (in translation by Katrina Dodson). My favourite so far is “Covert Joy” which I absolutely love for its bookishness.

It begins with a book. “It was a thick book, my God, it was a book you could live with, eating it, sleeping it.”

It continues with a book. “Hours later I opened it, read a few wondrous lines, closed it again, wandered around the house, stalled even more by eating some bread and butter, pretended not to know where I had put the book, found it, opened it for a few seconds.”

And, it ends with a book. “I was no longer a girl with a book: I was a woman with her lover.”

What more do you need to know?

Stories read: The Smallest Woman in the World, Covert Joy, Forgiving God, Where Were You at Night, Explanation, Miss Algrave, He Drank Me Up, One Day Less

Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) also landed on my stack thanks to Mel.

The translation by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad is a hybrid of a slightly old-fashioned style of observation and reflection with a contemporary eye for grit. The language is suitably matter-of-fact, coarse at times, as the stories recount the daily lives of Bombay inhabitants.

There is an undercurrent of darkness in the stories, but not relentlessly so. Possibly the writer has absorbed the idea that the interest of readers, like many people, is difficult to sustain in the face of misery.

“Sarita’s mother was always telling this story, but no one knew whether it was true. No one in the building felt any sympathy for her, perhaps because their lives were so difficult that they had no time to think about others. No one had any friends. Most of the men slept during the day and worked nights in the nearby factory. Everyone lived right on top of one another, and yet no one took any interest in anyone else.”

The per capita calculation of prostitutes in these stories would be rivalled only by the number of male characters who employ them or demand their services. Women are often at the centre of the stories and introduce an element of conflict, sometimes interior and other times exterior.

“Youth itself was sitting before him in its purest form – fresh, stainless youth wrapped in silk – and he could have her, not just for one night but for many, as once he paid for her, she would be his. And yet this thought saddened him. He didn’t know why such things happened – this girl should never be sold like merchandise. But the he realized if that were true then he could never have her.”

Contents: Khushiya, Ten Rupees, Barren, The Insult, Smell, Babu Gopi Nath, Janaki, Peerun, Rude, Hamid’s Baby, Mummy, Siraj, Mozelle, Mammad Bhai

Coyote is all over this collection of stories. Her scent and her fur, her meddling and her pawprints.

Her voice does make this collection of Thomas King’s stories stand out. It’s possible that the stories in A Short History of Indians in Canada might seem a little ordinary without so much of Coyote in them. More realism and less Coyote-ism.

It’s also possible that, if one isn’t accustomed to Thomas King’s stories to begin with, this might not be the best introduction. Coyote puts bends in the rivers, adds rapids to make them interesting; if you prefer your rivers to flow in a straight and orderly fashion, it’s possible that this isn’t the storyteller for you (with or without Coyote).

A quick introduction to Coyote follows, considering what kind of story she might like to tell next, from “The One about Coyote Going West”.

The laughter and pain here are characteristic of these stories, the ones Coyote tells and the ones she listens to.

If you enjoy this snippet, the collection will appeal as well.

She sings like that. With that tail, wagging. With that smile. Sitting there.
Maybe I tell you the one about Eric The Lucky and the Vikings play hockey for the Oldtimers, find us Indians in Newfoundland, she says. Maybe I tell you the one about Christopher Cartier looking for something good to eat. Find us Indians in a restaurant in Montreal. Maybe I tell you the one about Jacques Columbus come along that river. Indians waiting for him. We all wave and say here we are, here we are.
Everyone knows those stories, I says. Whiteman stories. Baby stories you got in your mouth.
No, no, no, no, says that Coyote. I read these ones in that old book.

Contents: Dedication; One Good Story, That One; Totem; Magpies; Trap Lines; How Corporal Colin Sterling Saved Blossom, Alberta, and Most of the Rest of the World as Well; The One About Coyote Going West; A Seat in the Garden; Joe the Painter and the Deer Island Massacre; A Coyote Columbus Story; Borders

For those who enjoy short works by Canadian writers, for those who have a tidy little shelf of Granta magazines, Issue #141 was edited by Madeleine Thien and Catherine Leroux.

Many of the works were translated and are available in their original French on the website, but for those of us reading on the page, the issue was remarkably satisfying.

The images and the words carried me through nearly two months of morning reading. Fortunately, Naomi (at Consumed by Ink) and I discovered that we were reading through the collection around the same time.

From then on, we read along together, in a kinda sorta coordinated rhythm, one of us getting ahead and, then, the other.

Mostly we kept in touch via Twitter, our bookmarks moving ahead alongside various winter storm warnings and early-darkened evenings. (She had more snow days than I did: that seems unfair.)

It was especially nice to have company with some of these stories, the kind that leave you feeling disoriented, shaken even. (Both Thien and Leroux are challenging writers, keen to keep readers on their collective toes.)

Many of the narratives leave readers with questions, overt or implied. More than once, I had the urge to check my understanding of something. There was company in the absence of certainty.

And we were both particularly fond of the Margaret Atwood story, which was the exactly the kind of story that makes us both want to snorty-laugh and, if one is a snorty-laugher, it is always best to have company in that state.

Beginning in 2017, I have been gradually reading through 41 of Mavis Gallant’s published short stories.

Schedule

One of my favourite story collections from 2017, which was longlisted for the Giller Prize: where do you find short stories to read?.

Review here

From 2011 to 2015, I read through Alice Munro’s short stories, one after the next. An amazing experience!

Read More

Curious about the short form?

Wonder what makes stories tick?

A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.
Lorrie Moore

A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.
Stephen King

Collections of Enid Blyton stories. My copy of Toyland Tales is battered, I also filled in the hands on the clock puzzles, counted the mice following the Pied Piper and coloured people’s faces green.

Edith Pearlman, thanks to a recommendation from Julia, an enthusiastic short story reader and writer, who noticed we share a love of short fiction that tugs at the heart.

So many people can now write competent stories that the short story is in danger of dying of competence.
Flannery O’Connor

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.
Ray Bradbury

Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.
Neil Gaiman

My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart
Haruki Murakami

Outside of a class reader, the first story I remember rereading was in an anthology about a woman who is walking home alone at night and hears footsteps behind her. All the bejeebies were scared out of me, every single time.

In the same year: D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”. It was a good year, but now I see that we did not study Tillie Olsen, Ethel Wilson or Charlotte Perkins.

A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.
David Sedaris

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you.
George Saunders

Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.
Mavis Gallant

Follow one short story with two more and the impact of any one of them seems to be dissipated and diluted.
Susan Hill

Alice Munro’s A Friend of My Youth, as much for its quiet understated cover as my sense of needing-to-have-read-her-by-that-time. When I loved it, I began to buy collections as often as novels. Well, almost as often.

Fourteen. Highlights included Olive Senior’s The Pain Tree, Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall, Langston Hughes’ The Ways of White Folks, and Cherie Dimaline’s A Gentle Habit.

I find it satisfying and intellectually stimulating to work with the intensity, brevity, balance and word play of the short story.
Annie Proulx

Somewhere around the place I’ve got an unfinished short story about Schrodinger’s Dog; it was mostly moaning about all the attention the cat was getting.
Terry Pratchett

“The best short stories contain novels. Either they are densely plotted, with each line an insight, or they distill emotions that could easily have spread on for pages, chapters.”

Louise Erdrich

“The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story…. Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: ‘Who am I?'”

Isak Dinesen

And you? Any short stories lately?

2018-06-14T13:55:39+00:00

6 Comments

  1. Naomi March 23, 2018 at 10:53 am - Reply

    What a great post. When I got to the end, I went back to remind myself of everything I had just read. And, once again, I love the tab-y things!

    I’ll have to read that Endicott story – I love the same quote as Susan – I’m glad it’s possible to read it on-line!

    I’m so glad you read one of Carol Bruneau’s books! (I haven’t read that one. Did you have it on your shelf?)

    I really do think it helped that we were reading the Granta together – once you were done, I slowed down and still even have a few left to read! I will blame the library books and the CR books. snorty laugh

    • Buried In Print April 3, 2018 at 10:11 am - Reply

      Oh, no: maybe we had opposite responses at the 3/4 mark, with that “hunh” feeling, which made me rush for the end, whereas it gave you pause? I could have fallen that way, too: I think it had more to do with the feeling that all the other books in my stack were like that too, so I needed to finish quickly or give up on ALL of them (Perec and Sebald too) but I was close to finishing with all of them.

      The Bruneaus are mostly not available via the library circulation and I don’t have any of them anymore either, so I actually had to read that one in the reference library but it was worth it! I totally see why she’s one of your favourites!

  2. A Life in Books March 23, 2018 at 5:46 am - Reply

    That first Endicott quote is priceless, and I’m very attracted to the Bruneau.

    • Buried In Print April 3, 2018 at 10:06 am - Reply

      Yes! And I feel like Bruneau is one of those writers I should just add to my MustReadEverything list straightaway, even with very little exposure, because even the book descriptions sound like just my cuppa.

  3. The Reading Life March 23, 2018 at 4:24 am - Reply

    Wonderful post. Glad to see you liked Clarice Lispector. The first time translation of her second novel comes out next week, by same translator.

    I have been reading Manto on and off for years, he is a great chronicler of the dark side of India and his partition stories are classics

    • Buried In Print April 3, 2018 at 10:05 am - Reply

      Thanks for introducing them to my TBR: I’m glad to know there are a lot more stories from both writers for me to explore. (And novels, too, apparently!)

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