So it seems obvious now, doesn't it? Collections of short stories multiply the beginnings and endings. For me, it's exactly like the choice between a direct flight and one where you have to change planes three times. The take-offs and landings are the most disruptive (and dangerous!) part. This is why I couldn't finish the The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, whom I normally love; aside from the bloated, show-offy prose, it's constructed in such a way that you basically start over with a brand-new novella (new characters, setting, story line, etc.) every 80 pages or so – right when I was beginning to feel invested – with no closure on the previous story. This was utterly infuriating. (Still waiting for someone who has finished this book to explain the point of all that to me and why I shouldn't throw it into a fire.)
Nevertheless, for whatever reason, I've been picking up some short fiction lately and liking it. I keep thinking about a story I read a couple of weeks ago, "Teen Culture" by Elizabeth Ellen from the Summer 2012 issue of American Short Fiction. Not a good title IMO, but a great story. Mark Cugini recently asked, repeatedly, for Twitter to explain "alt lit" to him:
*WARNING* If you don't want to see me ask someone to explain Alt Lit to me 40x over the next 11 hours, you might want to unfollow me now.Here was my answer:
— Mark Cugini (@MarkCugini) December 3, 2013
@MarkCugini If the characters text each other, it's alt litBy these standards, "Teen Culture" is alt lit. But don't let that scare you off. It's in her book Fast Machine.
— Elisa Gabbert (@egabbert) December 3, 2013
Another standout: "The Moody Pencil" by Rachel B. Glaser from the second issue of Uncanny Valley (Mike Meginnis and Tracy Bowling's neat magazine). I read half of it before bed one night, put it aside, then finished it like three months later. It begins unassumingly and then does weird, wild stuff with time and reality that made me think of some of the more "out there" fiction by Joy Williams (one of my favorites foreverrr).
And I've been spending my mornings this weekend on the couch under John's old comforter (it's so freezing our heat's not getting the apartment warmer than 62) drinking creamy coffee and reading The Isle of Youth. My favorite so far is "Opa-Locka," which is about two sisters who start a PI firm. I love how LVDB portrays relationships as accidental and in any case temporary configurations of essentially isolated and confused individuals. Also, you should read this great interview she did with The Believer:
LVDB: Do you know what’s been driving me crazy lately? People asking why I’m not smiling in my author’s photo, or knocking the photo because I look imposing and unapproachable, as opposed to “warm.” Do people ask you why you’re not smiling in your author’s photo? Or get requests for a different photo because you don’t look friendly enough? I get different versions of this a lot. As a result, I am pretty well determined to never smile in another photo ever again.
BLVR: No, I’ve never been asked why I’m not smiling or asked to send a different author photo. I’m a thin, white, heterosexual man.