Category Archives: Short Stories and Anthologies

Dictionary Stories: Short Fictions and Other Findings by Jez Burrows

Dictionary Stories - Short Fictions and Other Findings by Jez Burrows Title: Dictionary Stories: Short Fictions and Other Findings
Author: Jez Burrows
Publisher: HarperPerennial, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780062652614
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 210
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2 Stars

You know the feeling when you want to enjoy a book, when you think you will love it as you pick it up, only to be massively disappointed? Sigh. That rarely happens to me but when it does, it sure does break my heart. “Dictionary Stories: Short Fictions and Other Findings” by Jez Burrows is written in the manner of “The Lover’s Dictionary” by David Levithan, except that it isn’t quite like that book and can never be.

I read it cover to cover and not a single story either struck a chord or has managed to stay with me. The book is for sure innovative and creative even, but it seems excessive, in the way that I would not pick up another book in this format for a long time to come. And it isn’t that I didn’t search for any kind of emotion in the book. Just that I couldn’t see any or thought the author was trying too hard.

All I can say is that the book did not do anything for me – not even from A to Z. Every section was well-planned, the right words were chosen, and the stories were also matched quite well. Like I said before, they just didn’t strike a chord with me. I liked the format (as I did with The Lover’s Dictionary) and hence the rating.

 

 

 

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The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children, Fireworks (Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics) by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber Title: The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children, Fireworks
Author: Angela Carter
Publisher: Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics
ISBN: 978-1101907993
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fairy Tales
Pages: 504
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Well, if you ask me, Angela Carter was a movement in herself. I have read most of her books and there isn’t a single one which I haven’t been enthralled by or thought about its layers, once done with it. Also, might I add that while most people think (and rightly so) that “The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories” is a very raw and grisly take on fairy tales, it is much more than that.  Carter’s stories are underlined or rather soaked in eroticism and subverts their so-called “intended message”. At the same time, they entertain, enthrall and amuse.

It was somewhere in the last year of college that I started reading Carter. As most would, I started with “The Bloody Chamber” and finished it in one sitting through one night. Her sense of fabulism had got me hooked to whatever she had to say. To my mind, that mixed with the feminist tone, enhanced every single word and sentence, lending it the much-needed sense of imagination and force. Perhaps, it was also the age when I first read her that changed me as a person and kept doing so everytime I would go back to her works, as I grew older.

“The Bloody Chamber” is a collection of stories that isn’t an adaptation of fairy tales. They are just revisitations. The world is of Carter’s – where young girls are more aware of themselves sexually and emotionally, where beasts can be suitors, mothers and pets could be saviours and blood flows endlessly. If nudity, sex, violence, necrophilia, and murder upset you easily, then perhaps this collection of stories isn’t for you. You wouldn’t want to see your beloved fairy tale characters (or a semblance to them) being so aware and liberal about who they are and what they stand for.

Now to the next book in this collection: Wise Children. “Wise Children” is perhaps the onyl Carter which I read right now for the first time. I was almost cursing myself for waiting for all this time before reading it. This book isn’t strange as much as it is farcial, humorous and engaging. The signature elements of fabulism, magic realism (hate the word but shall use it) and this entwined with the ongoings of two families, make “Wise Children” for a splendid read. It is theatrical and nostalgic in its scope. The narrative voice of a 75-year-old former song and dance girl, is perfect. The larger than life characters of theatre and film is what Carter captures with such wit and scope, that it is enough to engulf you. Before I forget, the multiple Shakespearean references and plot devices used (since Dora and Nora Chance are Shakespearean actors) only enhance the humour and irony of the book.

“Wise Children” is almost a tribute to the Bard, both in characterization and its plot. The writing is wry, intelligent and fantastically told. Even if you do not get the Shakespearean references, it is quite alright. You will enjoy the book nonetheless.

“Fireworks” was Carter’s first collection of short stories. Published in 1974 (four years prior to The Bloody Chamber), it was subtitled, “Nine Profane Pieces”. I love how Carter doesn’t mean to titilate or scandalize and yet people feel that way when they read her. When all she was doing through her stories, was asserting her identity, womanhood, and the claiming of sex (as it would seem).

This collection of stories have her constant themes – domination and transformation, also the untimely loss of innocence (traces of this would also be seen in The Bloody Chamber and other stories) and entering the dark territory of emotions – mainly lust, and horror of the body and the mind. Carter never shied from exploring themes and pushing the envelope so to say. To my mind, she was one of the foremost women writers who captured the mind of a woman and merged it with the surreal and fantastical, almost leading the way for other writers.

The stories of “Fireworks” are all about the darkness within and somehow Carter’s writing makes it playful, non-linear and intriguing. I often found myself yet again wanting to be a part of the worlds she creates.

Angela Carter’s writing has perpetually been fascinating, not treating gender as anything but a social construct and love mixed with a lot of comedy. Her characters are undecided,   forever changing their minds, and strangely know what they want. The richness of her imagination was always evident in what she wrote and all I can say is read more of her. Her essays, short stories, novels and journalistic pieces. Read them all. She is a treasure worth admiring.

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster

Title: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
Author: Mallory Ortberg
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1250113429
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Fairy Tales were never meant for children, I suppose. Over the years, and along the way, they became for children. No wonder there are so many retellings and translations of the true fairy tales from different regions of the world, in order to maintain them for what they were: sinister. “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror” by Mallory Ortberg is one such book of dark and playful stories based on classic folk and fairy tales, each one told with a twist of feminism, gender fluidity (at least from what I could make out for some of them) and more.

This is not a parody on fairy tales. This is what I thought when I picked it up but it turned out to be way ahead and progressive than that. Mallory not only understands these fairy tales in great detail and with an amazing insight, but she also is aware that cultures, time, and tellers shape the story and hence her stories do not at any time seem jaded. Moreover, her stories seem more real, given the times we live in and rightly so. Again, might I add: not meant for children.

I cannot even discuss these stories without giving away anything, so I will not. What I will say though is that “A Thankless Child” is one story that has stuck in my mind (a retelling of Cinderella if you please) and a very strange one at that. What I loved is that Ortberg is not here to shock you.

The stories are to break stereotypes, to get away from the prejudice and bias we create and above all to be able to think and feel the way you want to. There is also a sense of humour which is evident in the retelling of The Beauty and the Beast. I could go on and on about this one, but all I must say is that you just have to read this collection of stories.

Beautiful Days: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

Beautiful Days Title: Beautiful Days: Stories
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062795786
Genre: Short-Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

You just don’t read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. You experience it like no other. You soak in the words, till their brutality cuts you deep and then you use the same words to be work as balm and heal those wounds. That is the beauty of the writing of Joyce Carol Oates, it just doesn’t let you be and at the same time you feel so distant from it after you are done reading it. Only to realize that you will go back to it at some point.

I discovered the writing of Oates on Oprah Winfrey Show when she picked “We Were the Mulvaneys”. That was in early 2000s I think and since then I have not stopped reading Oates’ writing. I cannot thank Oprah Winfrey enough for this.

“Beautiful Days” is a new collection (well, some of them have been published earlier) by the American master of story-telling. Let me just start by saying that Joyce Carol Oates’ characters are so broken that you might find it very hard to relate to them and yet as the story progresses, you start seeing them around you.

“Fleuve Bleu” examines an adulterous relationship and how the people involved in it are overcome by guilt, heartbreak, love, passion and sometimes plain apathy. This was one of my favourite in the collection, only because of the way Oates describes it all – the anger, the frustration of being together and sometimes not being together, of letting go, of having let go and its consequences. While on the other hand in “Big Burnt” a professor cunningly manipulates a woman, who is in love with him. The pathos, the helplessness and moreover the humour (sardonic but there) of being played by someone shines through superbly in this story.

So, I realized one thing while reading this collection, which is, you cannot take sides when it comes to reading any Oates’ story or book. She doesn’t let you take sides. Maybe that is the intention after all. “Undocumented Alien” however made me take sides. I had to. I was so involved in it, that there was nothing else to do. The story is about a young African student enrolled in an American university who is suddenly stripped of his student visa and that’s when all complications begin.

These are just some of the stories that I have loved, but I cannot possibly go on about all of them. The idea is that Oates’ writing only grows better with time (if that can ever happen). There is no best time to start reading her. You just have to start. Perhaps start reading her short stories. Oates’ landscapes are also quite brutal. It is almost that they match the characters’ lives, inner turmoil and sense of irresponsibility (sometimes). Her characters are careless, also callous, and often don’t know what they want or know quite well what they do not want. They strive, they fight demons and sometimes emerge victorious. Most times, they are only human.

 

Vampire in Love: Stories by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas Title: Vampire in Love: Stories
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated by Margarey Jull Costa
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338822
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love long-winding stories, so much to the point that if the author rambles sometimes, I am okay with that as well. Maybe that is also because of the style of the writer. There is something to it which doesn’t let go of the reader. Enrique Vila-Matas is one such writer whose works have always eluded me – left me hanging for more and made me not want to make sense of them as well – because the stories and books he has written are enough. He is one of those authors who should just keep writing. Nothing else really matters. Maybe I am praising him too highly, but don’t go by what I am saying. Read him. No matter place to start than his short stories and this collection titled, “Vampire in Love” is just what the doctor prescribed.

“Vampire in Love” is a collection of stories that are mostly absurd but also fantastical and profound. It takes a lot of time to get into this collection, but once you do, it will have you by your throat and not let go. Vila-Matas creates a world within each story that can be books in itself but it is best when it isn’t. When the stories leave you wanting more and you don’t get it.

The stories are a ​matter of fact and to the point, so don’t be alarmed if your imagination isn’t soaring boundless. The thing to remember is the craft and the emotion each story will generate (because that it will). From empathizing with an effeminate barber who falls in love with an innocent choirboy to a lonely ophthalmologist, Vila-Matas’ characters are regular people and yet they aren’t. “Vampire in Love” is a collection which isn’t for all and yet I would urge you to read it, only to test your boundaries as a reader.