... that there are no real short stories.
My book club has decided that they love short story collections. They love them for practical reasons - there is no time in the day but I can give one short story my full attention before sleep. They love the variety of subject matter that may be addressed in just one volume. But sometimes I suspect the real reason that they are attracted to a collection of short stories is because they all appreciate a well-composed snapshot of life. We are all at a place in our lives where we have dismissed the necessity of a beginning, a middle and an end. The essence will do, revealed in a single moment, a single choice, a single action, a single word. The short story well-told will never deliver the whole story in the sense a novel may satisfy our linear lust. Would you want it to?
This month we all picked up Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff. One third new stories and the rest previously published over a broad span of his career. These stories come to the reader in such lean prose that one thinks one can't possibly miss a point because all is laid bare, but miss things we did. As we pooled our collective impressions, we saw how deceptive simplicity can be. It left me wondering if the author's straightforward approach was intentionally deceptive. This inkling was reinforced by the fact that the theme of truth runs throughout all the stories, often in the most off-handed way. We see this in how easily we lie to ourselves, how easily a well-guarded truth is easily accessed from the most well hidden depths by the most unlikely source, how boring the truth may be in the instances in which a lie is told simply to amuse the self when reality is depressingly uninspiring.
The stories in this collection cover a broad section of American history, and offer up not just insights into individual characters but also insights into American identity. Almost too easy to visit the idea of the nature of truth in the present Bush era, but the topic might provide fodder for conversation for your group if you lean that way. Finally, and I hesitate before writing this, Wolff's stories are sometimes hilarious to me. I told someone else who read the collection that the piece about the hunters getting their friend to the hospital had me laughing out loud. Received blank look colored a little by baffled eyes. Checked a bunch of reviews. Did not find the word funny anywhere. Perhaps I am the sick puppy here.