Thursday, 29 June 2017

Linked Short Stories - the Best of Both Worlds

I love linked short stories.

People who prefer novels often say it's because they have become attached to the characters - a short story doesn't fulfil that sense of "I'm going to be with this narrative for a while and, yes, I really care about what happens next."  So, if you want to get to know a character and make him or her part of your precious inner fictive reality, then maybe a short story isn't going to work for you.

I understand this completely, although I truly love the short story as a particular literary form that is spare, concise and self-contained and sometimes poetic or lyrical.


Inspired by an excellent TV series based on Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," I picked up a book from the shelf, one I've had for some time. It's a linked series of stories by Margaret Atwood entitled "Moral Disorder" and was published in 2006. I have read a lot of her work in the past, but I'd forgotten just how much I enjoyed it. 

As with most short story collections, the title is that of one of her stories. 

I love Nell and Tig. Margaret Atwood explores their lives, in Nell's first-person narrative, in eleven delightful, self-contained stories, which seem commonplace (although commonplace in gorgeous language.)  Yet the depths of her incredible insights may only dawn on you after you have read for a little while.

People are, by definition, so irritating and so adorable and there is nothing ordinary about them, ever! The characters are beautifully dissected as Atwood's sharp analytical dagger of perception stabs into the most private and awkward places. Yet she is always kind and not judgemental.

Her first short story is "The Bad News" and wow! is it easy to make analogies with what is going on today? Tig wants to get "The Bad News" off his chest the moment he opens the newspaper, but Nell needs time before she is ready to face being able to "absorb, to cushion, to turn the calories of bad news - and it does have calories, it raises your blood pressure." It's impossible not to identify with her characters, to understand yourself more fully as a consequence of reading her.

Yes, bad news is definitely very high in calories and we can all do with less of it.

If I ever write another fiction book, it's going to be a book of linked short stories. They won't be a patch on Margaret Atwood's, but maybe I will come up with something worth reading, some new insights, a neat turn of phrase, a memorable metaphor!  Who knows?

1 comment:

Maria H Blanco said...

I love this idea. ...and that you've given me a new author to check out!