Short but Sweet: Short Story Collections

wevealreadygonethisfarDon’t let a shortage of time get in the way of reading a good story. Look for the following collections of short stories the next time you’re in need of concise fiction that still packs a punch:

We’ve Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey – Presents a collection of short stories about characters in a small Massachusetts town struggling with loss and disappointment in their respective quests for the American Dream.

Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller – Combining hard-edged prose and savage Southern charm, the author showcases a collection of lusty, lazy, hard-drinking characters in a series of stories.

The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin – A fascinating collection of new and classic tales of the fearsome Djinn, from bestselling, award-winning and breakthrough international writers.

Fen: Stories by Daisy Johnson – Offers short stories set in The Fens of England, including a story featuring a house that falls in love with a girl and becomes jealous of her friend.

Dis Mem Ber: And Other Stories of Mystery & Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates – A latest collection of stories focuses on the inner lives of vulnerable female protagonists struggling through victimization, provocation or deep emotional unrest to commit violent retaliatory acts.

MatchUp edited by Lee Child – A follow-up to “FaceOff” collects stories written by best-selling thriller authors, 11 women and 11 men partnered in male-female literary pairings, in an anthology that includes contributions by such favorites as Sandra Brown, John Sandford and Eric Van Lustbader. Continue reading

“Takes longer to read than the events depicted.”

the20dinner20-20finalBooks on Tap read The Dinner by Herman Koch at Champion Brewery on November 4.  A suspenseful novel told over the course of one evening from a single perspective by an unreliable narrator, it examines racism, mental health, parental influence, politics, self-deception and the self-satisfaction of the bourgeoisie. Paul (former history teacher), along with his wife Claire, meet his brother Serge (a politician under consideration for prime minister) and wife Babette for dinner in Amsterdam. The couples each have a teenage son whose crime has been captured on a security camera and is now online, although neither teen has been identified. Both sets of parents must now decided on a public course of action.

Paul’s unreliability as a narrator launched our discussion of the likeability of characters. Some readers found it hard to care because this family was so off-putting. However, others thought that the issues raised rendered likeability irrelevant.  Writing the novel as satire, Koch pushed the characters and situations so far past plausibility and reality to force the readers to examine their culpability in the ethical quandaries. The food descriptions, instead of dull interruptions, are signifiers of the characters pretensions, which may have been more original when the book was published in 2009.

Paul’s mental state colors the reader’s perception of events and motive. Paul claims to have been diagnosed with a mental illness that could have been passed to his teenage son, but refuses to read the results, further turning his back on reality. Would that diagnosis matter as much as the amoral environment in which Paul and Claire have raised him? Would Paul have taught him to be a bully regardless? Claire is just as willing to rationalize his brutal behavior and it is unclear if she is a Lady Macbeth-figure or if events truly spiral out of her control. Teenage boys can do terrible things in small groups without considering the consequences – Serge’s son goes along with Paul’s despite not being raised by a psychopath. As far as we know: the entire story could be a figment of Paul’s delusions, Serge may not be the ethical politician who offers to step down, Claire may not have bashed a glass into Serge’s face.

Koch’s craft and skill as a writer was respected. The ambiguity builds tension for the slow reveals, which kept some readers engaged during otherwise boring descriptions of the meal. We wondered to whom the Paul is relating his account and if Koch believes that his readers share Paul’s delusions (albeit on a smaller scale). A few book club members read the book twice, appreciating it more the second time, especially on audio, where any boring bits passed by faster. In all, The Dinner was a taut tale of (self) deception and responsibility.

More Information:
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Author interview
Other works

Recommendations:
Defending Jacob by William Landay
We Need to Talk about Kevin by  Lionel Shriver
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

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December 1:  “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote (pdf version)