A Defense of the Short Story
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
As a bookseller, I often hear the following refrain: “I don’t want that. I hate short stories.” To me, this is pure crazy talk. David Sedaris, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chuck Klosterman, and Nora Ephron are all fabulously successful based on their short writing pieces. So what gives? While I can understand not wanting to “get involved” with a story that isn’t novel-length – your emotional investment may be disproportionate to the number of pages available – but to just dismiss what could be a potentially life-changing experience seems, well, too dismissive. Wouldn’t reading an eloquent, beautifully written short story that hits you like an emotional freight train be more worth your time than some forgettable, throw away, pulpy thriller you picked up in the airport? I don’t mean to sound so righteous, it’s just that I feel passionately about this overlooked, kicked-around, stepchild of a genre and I feel it could use some love. Thankfully, a gentleman named Nam Le has written a brilliant collection of shorts called
The Boatthat just may change the way we all read (or don’t read) the short story.The Boatis composed of seven stories, each set in vastly differing locales – Colombia, Iowa, the South China Sea - that are thematically tied together in such a way that you almost miss it at first glance. Each appears unrelated to the others, yet the emotional toll of living life manages to breathe on every page, creating a thematic bridge. I know, “emotional toll” doesn’t sound like much fun, but in the hands of Le, the raw emotional power shines through in a way I have seldom encountered.