Day 1 of Short Story Month is off to a good start. My first reading selections came from the The Best American Short Stories (2011). I read Ricardo Nuila's Dog Bites (originally published in McSweeney's) and Elizabeth McCracken's Property (originally published in Granta). I felt both stories were strong, but McCracken's story spoke to me as both a reader and a writer.
As a reader, this story appealed to me because it is a story about grief and how we perceive the world around us differently when we grieve. Grief has always been a fascinating process for me, possibly because I've lost many loved ones, and maybe I don't quite understand how I manage to continue moving through it and beyond it and how everyone around me has their own unique way of dealing with their own grief. The first story I ever got published was about grief. It is hard for me to put down a story about loss and the healing process, especially if it is well-written, and well-written feels like an understatement to describe Property.
As a writer, I was drawn into McCracken's beautiful language and unique descriptions. She piqued my interest by opening her story with how an ad for a rental property should have been written, had it been accurate. But she hooked me in the paragraph that followed with her description of her characters. One character she described as looking like, ". . . a plump-cheeked naughty heroine of a German children's book having just sawed off her own braids with a knife. Her expression dared you to teach her a lesson" (193). I struggle with character descriptions in my own writing and tend to just leave them out because they fail to stand out and fail to serve the story, preferring to hint at a few surface details and letting the reader use their imagination. McCracken has no such problems. Without giving a humdrum list of physical features, she manages to create a vivid image of her character while still leaving the details to my own imagination. This is something want to strive for in my own short stories. There was much more about this story worth loving, and the exquisite descriptions certainly aren't limited to the first page. Her characters were quirky and real, and while the story was about grief and healing, it was not bogged down in the weight of heavy emotions. She somehow makes this a light read without being flippant about death and loss. This is a story definitely worth reading, especially if you are interested in studying well-crafted stories to help improve your own short story writing. If you don't care to pick up a copy of the above book, you can also read it via the Granta website if you care to subscribe. Or at the very least, you can get a free sneak preview.
As for my own writing, I am working on a new short piece tentatively titled "Bagpipes". I am handwriting it at the moment (less chance of ending up on the internet or play solitaire for three straight hours that way) so I don't have a word count, but I am keeping Elizabeth McCracken's way of describing her characters in mind and may try my hand at accomplishing the same thing. I'll post an updated word count with tomorrow's post.
And just a little teaser, I've selected two of my favorite short story collections for giveaways and a fun little tool for writing inspiration. There may be more. First giveaway starts on Friday, so keep checking back!
So who are your favorite short story authors? Leave me recommendations in the comments because I have 60 more stories to read this month!
Happy Writing! (And Reading!)
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