Summer in shorts
As you may already know, whilst summer is the optimum time for short-wearing, it’s not always the best time for short-reading. Indeed, the sun has warped my brain a little and sent me slightly off track, so for this quartely review things might not be what they seem and a short story might not always just be a short story.
It might be music as well. The Eccentronic Research Council’s latest album Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m your Biggest Fan is actually over an hour long, which doesn’t seem very short story. But I reckon if you took out all the music it would be a lot shorter. Plus, it just kind of feels like a short story.
Narrated by Maxine Peake (for this album one fully-realised character instead of voicing various people), it tells a story of small-town obsession with a local rock star named Johnny Narcissist and his band The Moonlandingz. What’s really great about it is the glorious details in the lyrics, wry observations of small town life and the subtle reveal of the unreliable narrator. Then about three quarters of the way through – just when you’re feeling that though you’re enjoying the music but the narrative has run into a bit of a dead end – it throws in a fairly sizeable twist that chucks the whole thing back in a different direction.
Or a short story could be a cartoon. When I was about seven (or something like that. Maybe seven? I have no idea. Does that sound reasonable?) I tried to write my own episode of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but for some reason misunderstood that a screenplay needed directions as well as dialogue, and all I ended up with was a series of “oofs” and “biffs” and the kind of ‘witty’ one-liners the Turtles used to indulge in. Anyway, over this summer we watched a lot of episodes of Adventure Time and I realised how these surreal ten minute-long adventures were just animated short stories. It would be interesting to read, or to try and write, a cartoon written as a short story.
Or a short story could be disguised as a novel. On recommendation from Rach I started reading Ann McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang, assuming it was a novel, though it turned out that it was just pretending. Though there was an overarching story, it was broken down in to episodes which felt like short stories. Though I was not 100% on board with McCaffrey’s writing style all the time, I did find the idea of the main character intriguing – the stories revolve around a ‘brain ship’, a spaceship piloted by a human brain (difficult to explain in a sentence). It inserts some human heart into an episodic space operatic narrative that traverses various planets that host social conundrums, and these stories reminded me somewhat of Isaac Asimov.
Then again, sometimes a short story is just a short story. And short story collections kept on my Kindle once again came in useful whilst on holiday and whilst moving house.
I picked up (or at least downloaded) Carys Davies’ The Redemption Of Galen Pike, published by Salt and winner of this year’s Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her stories utilise twists in the tale – something I think can be overdone, but Davies pulls off the trick. It is also noticeable how quickly she sets authentic scenes and jumps straight into the action with few sentences wasted (had I not started this post with the theme of other things being short stories, I might have spent more of it praising this instead).
Finally, a couple of exquisite pieces featured on Recommended Reading, which I would again like to point you towards. Amelia Gray‘s piece, ‘The Swan As A Metaphor For Love’ and Antonio Tognazzini‘s ‘Neighbors’ – I won’t write anything more about them, other than to say I think they are both brilliantly realised pieces of work and well worth a couple of minutes of your eye-brain time.
I will report back at the end of the autumn (currently reading ‘Thus Were Their Faces’ by Sylvana Ocampo, so expect ramblings about that), until then keep wearing shorts.
PS: Last weekend was the 2015 Guernsey Literary Festival. Once again, I’ve been writing about it on the festival blog.