With soaring sales, viral hits like Cat Person and a cameo by Tom Hanks, the form seems to be staging a comeback. But did it ever go away?
In 2017, almost 50% more short story collections were sold than in the previous year. It was the best year for short stories since 2010. Booksellers are reporting a surge in popularity for the form, commentators note publishers are buying more collections and issuing them with greater care and enthusiasm; in December the newcomer Kristen Roupenian cut five- and seven-figure deals in the UK and US after her New Yorker story “Cat Person” went viral. On top of all that, collections are being reviewed more than ever before, the Sunday Times EFG short story award (worth £30,000) has received its highest ever number of entries and the BBC national short story award continues to grow in popularity. We are experiencing the renaissance ...
Perception and reality blur in a compelling fable about otherness, anxiety and the alienating effects of illness
Reading Eley Williams’s brilliant story collection Attrib., published earlier this year, I encountered a phrase – “unheimlich manoeuvres” – that captures perfectly the most notable element of Tom Lee’s writing. He has a pronounced ability to take normal, even mundane situations and nudge them out of true, propelling his characters into positions of strangeness and danger that they are often fatally slow to identify. He did it in the best stories in his first book, Greenfly, and now he does it at novel length in The Alarming Palsy of James Orr.
Lee wastes no time in setting things askew. “When James Orr woke up,” the book begins, “he had the sense that there was something not quite right, some indefinable shift in the normal order of things.” That shift turns out ...
Psychology, fantasy and fable collide in a hygge-free northern collection
To begin, a quick test: which are the countries, possessions, autonomous territories and indigenous peoples that make up the Nordic region? It is a much more encompassing term than Scandinavia, which comprises only Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Use “Nordic” and you can include not only Finland, but the Åland Islands (an autonomous possession of Finland, although the inhabitants all speak Swedish), the Faroe Islands and Greenland, which are both autonomous but part of the Kingdom of Denmark. You also have Iceland, which became sovereign 100 years ago but before that belonged first to Norway, then to Denmark-Norway, then only Denmark. And there are the Saami people – indigenous to Scandinavia and Fennoscandia, who live in a band across northern Norway, Sweden and Finland and Russia’s Kola Peninsula.
That sounds confusing and disparate, but the Icelandic author Sjón, who has edited ...
Some of his short stories have conspicuous faults – not least in their portrayal of women – but the best show a unique, sad beauty
“There is no complete life. There are only fragments.” These lines from James Salter’s 1975 novel Light Years express a belief, perhaps even a philosophy, which informs all his writing. It is one that would favour the short story, which prioritises the extraordinary moment above the changes over time found in novels. So does Salter’s prose, which is lyrical but extremely economical. Structurally, however, his instinct is towards the expansive: he likes to move through large stretches of time. This combination has resulted in a relatively small body of short stories (two collections, from 1988 and 2006) that is unlike the work of any other writer.
In American Express, Salter spends half the story summarising the legal careers of Frank and Alan, two young, ...
TS Eliot thought Jones stood alongside himself, Joyce and Pound. But the poet and painter has remained obscure. Why?It is rare to read a major biography of a minor figure, but then David Jones, an artist who produced outstanding and original work in several media, primarily poetry and painting, is minor by mistake. To prove it, Thomas Dilworth, who has written two other books on Jones’s life and work in the 30 years since he was commissioned to write this one, begins with an enfilade of praise from TS Eliot
, WH Auden
, Kenneth Clark
, Graham Greene
, Seamus Heaney
, Igor Stravinsky
and Dylan Thomas
. The effect is to make the reader wonder how someone possessed of such genius could become so obscure. “If Beckett was the last great modernist,” he writes, “Jones was the lost great modernist.”
In his introduction to In Parenthesis
, one of ...
Longlisted for the Man Booker international prize, this dangerously addictive first novel in which a woman’s life speeds towards doom is haunted by the bleak landscape of rural Argentina“Each thing she tells you is going to be worse,” someone says about two thirds of the way through Samanta Schweblin
’s short, terrifying and brilliant first novel, now longlisted for the Man Booker International prize. It could be the book’s strapline, as she remorselessly cranks up the tension until every sentence seems to tremble with threat.
, translated by Megan McDowell
, is the Argentinian writer’s first book to appear in English (she has written three short story collections). In it, Amanda has left her husband working in Buenos Aires and travelled, with her daughter Nina, to a holiday home in the countryside. She becomes friendly with a neighbour, Carla, who tells her a horrible, apparently supernatural story ...
Sketching lives very similar to her own, Berlin’s stories of hardscrabble lives resemble Raymond Carver’s – while also invoking some of Proust’s spirit
“It’s not that I’m worried about the future that much”, explains an ageing woman in Lucia Berlin’s story A New Life. “It’s my past that I can’t get rid of, that hits me like a big wave when I least expect it.” The waves of memory crash again and again in Berlin’s work as she, and a variety of narrators who typically share many of the details of her biography, relate episodes that together form a body of work that is part memoir, part auto-fiction, and part single, extended story cycle.
Related: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin review – an acute talent that deserves to be celebrated