Friday, June 20, 2014

Where's the Story?

I find myself reading two books at once.  Usually when this happens it means I started one, it's doing little to not much for me, so I start another.  This is the first time I can recall reading two books at once where the above isn't the case.

I don't think I'll be leaving comments for Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner as I've already found so many reviews online that state my feelings better than I could, but I may talk about it.  It's the kind of literary fiction that people who don't like the genre point to: not because it's 'not good' in some vague way (it's actually amazing) but because there aren't stories being told.  

I started The Mysteries of Pittsburg yesterday and it's flying by.  The ease in reading has nothing to do with the plaudits that come with being Michael Chabon as opposed to being anyone else Gartner, rather Chabon has a narrative going, a story.  After reading half of Gartner's collection, picking up Chabon is the first time I've ever condoned seeing 'A Novel' on the cover of a book.

I get it now.

I understand because I've now come to see that not all works of fiction are novels, or in Gartner's case not all short stories collections are narrative stories in the typical sense.  I don't want to turn this into an author vs. author and even if I did I'd be the first to point out Chabon's near inability to wrestle a story out of Jews With Swords as he fell further an further in love with his word play and himself page by page.  (And if I were Chabon I'd be totally in love with me too.)  All that said, I like stories.  Settings; characters; narrative; plot; tension; conflict; resolution.  Ideas are great and so is social commentary--Gartner has a lot to say and does it extremely well.

But with the points she's trying to make and concepts she wants the reader to think about, many of her stories feel like essays shoehorned into short stories.  (As if one of those two genres has substantial sales clout on the other… )  "Okay, this is good.  Now just add some characters names and try to craft some narrative direction."  I'll talk about it a bit more when I finish.  

But I like stories.  

No comments: