Recently, with the announcement that Alice Munro was the recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature, I began thinking about the short story writers that I have loved most. I first read Alice Munro when I was in high school, and absolutely loved Lives of Girls and Women. I don’t often re-read books, but this book is one that I have revisited many times. The stories are all about one character, Del Jordan, and the writing is so beautiful that you realize that not only is Alice Munro a great Canadian writer, she’s a great writer, period. Of Del falling in love, Munro writes, “His face contained for me all possibilities of fierceness and sweetness, pride and submissiveness, violence, self-containment. I never saw more in it than I had when I saw it first, because I saw everything then. The whole thing in him that I was going to love, and never catch or explain.” Other short story collections include Dear Life and My Best Stories, although a search of our library catalogue will also point you to many other novels written by Munro. Even if you think you’re not a fan of short stories, give Munro a try and she will likely change your mind!
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger was published in 1953 and is another title that I have read and re-read numerous times. The stories centre around different characters, but themes recur between the stories. Phoniness is one theme that recurs, as well as the theme of children being wiser than the adults around them. A high school teacher got me hooked on Salinger and Nine Stories, as far as I’m concerned, is Salinger at his best. Though all the stories in this volume are great, stand-outs are “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, “For Esme- With Love and Squalor” and “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” one character is described as “a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.” After reading these short stories, I remember thinking about them for days after.
I got hooked on Raymond Carver in university when I was taking an American Literature course and immediately loved Carver’s attention to detail and his knack for turning out accurate and real dialogue. His stories deal with infidelity, death, isolation, loss and relationships between lovers and are set in mundane settings such as diners and trailer parks. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please was Carver’s first short story collection, and in 1993 Robert Altman made a film of several of his short stories entitled Short Cuts. This film starred big-name actors such as Robert Downey and Julianne Moore and is definitely an interesting film to watch. Lyle Lovett as the bakery owner is particularly well cast.
The authors listed above are all very different (but equally great) masters of the short story genre. And there’s no better time to discover a new author or two than when the nights are getting colder and darker, and there’s nothing better to do than cuddle up with a good read.