Thursday, 5 September 2019

My Forays into Short Stories

I didn't mean to make the title of this post rhyme, but I guess in certain accents it would! But that's besides the point. I wanted to dedicate this post today to two of my favourite literary things: short stories and translated literature. My ultimate wish would be to be able to read every book in its original language, but since I've been struggling with Mandarin for 3 years now, it is probably best to stick with translations for now.

I have adored the short story genre for quite a while, but it is only in the past few years that I have really come to appreciate the complexity of a good short story. I have been expanding my short story-horizons and I thought I'd share some of the short story collections I have enjoyed recently. Most of these will be translations from the original language.

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales - Yoko Ogawa, trans. from Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
Yoko Ogawa was only recently brought to my attention when I kept seeing her latest novel, The Memory Police, recommended pretty much everywhere! Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales is a fascinating collection of eleven stories that all interconnect, one way or another. Reading it felt like a meditation on how grief and anger spread their way across people's lives, affecting their smallest actions and the lives of those around them.

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Elsewhere, an accomplished surgeon is approached by a cabaret singer, whose beautiful appearance belies the grotesque condition of her heart. And while the surgeon’s jealous lover vows to kill him, a violent envy also stirs in the soul of a lonely craftsman. Desire meets with impulse and erupts, attracting the attention of the surgeon’s neighbor---who is drawn to a decaying residence that is now home to instruments of human torture. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders---their fates converge in an ominous and darkly beautiful web.
Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge is a master class in the macabre that will haunt you to the last page.
The Sadness of Beautiful Things: StoriesThe Sadness of Beautiful Things - Simon Van Booy

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled upon Van Booy's stories, but I was deeply touched by the sentiment in each of the stories in The Sadness of Beautiful Things. In each of them you'll find the unexpected kindness of strangers, but also the deep weight of grief and sadness. Especially the last story in this collection, about a father and husband worrying about the end of the world, was heartbreaking.

Over the past decade, Simon Van Booy has been listening to people's stories. With these personal accounts as a starting point, he has crafted a powerful collection of short fiction that takes readers into the innermost lives of everyday people. From a family saved from ruin by a mysterious benefactor, to a downtrodden boxer who shows unexpected kindness to a mugger, these masterfully written tales reveal not only the precarious balance maintained between grief and happiness in our lives, but also how the echoes of personal tragedy can shape us for the better.

Mouthful of Birds - Samantha Schweblin, trans. from Spanish by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of BirdsI picked up the recommendation for Mouthful of Birds from the Guardian's series 'Books that made me', the Tommy Orange installment. He Chose Schweblin's collection as the book that made him cry and after reading it I absolutely understood why. He called it 'strange and beautiful', which is exactly what these stories are. The title story is both eerily creepy and heartwarming, which is a masterful combination to achieve.

A powerful, eerily unsettling story collection from a major international literary star.
Unearthly and unexpected, the stories in Mouthful of Birds burrow their way into your psyche and don't let go. Samanta Schweblin haunts and mesmerizes in this extraordinary, masterful collection.
Schweblin's stories have the feel of a sleepless night, where every shadow and bump in the dark take on huge implications, leaving your pulse racing, and the line between the real and the strange blur.
The Well of Trapped Words by Sema Kaygusuz, trans. from Turkish by Maureen Freely

Image result for the well of trapped words coverI had the enormous fortune to attend Sema Kaygusuz' talk at the Shanghai LitFest last March, which is where I picked up my copy The Well of Trapped Words. I was even more honoured that she wrote me a recommendation list of philosophers and poets on the back page. Her stories look at Turkey's history, relationships between men and women, as well as the relation between women and their bodies. They are lyrical and beautiful. Many have stayed with me since reading them.
A sixty year-old man marries a teenage bride, then mysteriously begins to starve himself to death... ...A disenfranchised Kurdish girl finally fulfulls her dream to dine out at the mall - where all is not as it seems... ...A local strongman is robbed and beaten by a gang. In hospital, he strives to prevent his secret insecurity being exposed; that inside his huge shoes he has tiny feet.
Bringing together the best of Sema Kagusuz’s short fiction for the first time, this debut English-language publication has themes of identity, race (and particularly the plight of ethnic minorities), family secrets, and what happens when private lives are opened in the public sphere. Outspoken and controversial, and yet with a deft lyrical touch that grasps the reader's emotions as well as their intellect, The Well of Trapped Words shows a writer at the peak of her powers.
There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, trans. from Russian by Keith Gessen & Anna Summers

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy TalesI found mention of this collection in a list of female Russian authors and I was immediately intrigued by the title. I mean... what?! The stories in this collection are heartbreaking and, indeed, scary fairy tales. They are all fantastical and macabre, but they all speak to a very true and deep humanity.

The literary event of Halloween: a book of otherworldly power from Russia's preeminent contemporary fiction writer
Vanishings and apparitions, nightmares and twists of fate, mysterious ailments and supernatural interventions haunt these stories by the Russian master Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, heir to the spellbinding tradition of Gogol and Poe. Blending the miraculous with the macabre, and leavened by a mischievous gallows humor, these bewitching tales are like nothing being written in Russia-or anywhere else in the world-today. 

and finally I have to end on the collection below:

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

This is really the collection that kickstarted my new obsession with short stories this year. I reread it earlier for my book club at work and realized just how transgressive and inventive Machado's stories really are. Her Body and other Parties was a groundbreaking story collection for me. The way Machado played with form and language, while putting to paper some incredibly harsh truths, is just beautiful. Do yourself a favour and read it, if you haven't yet! (She has also just written a brilliant blog post for the Paris Review of Books about Beth March!)

Her Body and Other PartiesIn Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
A wife refuses her husband's entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store's prom dresses. One woman's surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for short story collections? Or have you read any of the above? Do share your thoughts below!

1 comment:

  1. Ooooh so many interesting titles! I tried reading Revenge but didn't have much luck with it (I'm still interested Memory Police, though). I did enjoy Her Body and Other Parties. There Once Lived a Woman Who... is on my TBR and I will have to add a few of the other titles.

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