Friday, October 28, 2011

Top ten short stories

In 2007 novelist and short story writer Alison MacLeod named her top ten short stories for the Guardian.

Her criteria and one title on her list:
Writing a short story is a high-wire act, sentence by sentence, foot by foot. Very few story writers work with the safety net of a plot conceived in advance. They trust in the humming tension of a single opening line or in an image that rises in their mind, or in a fragment of a character's voice. They might have a sense of where they want their characters to go; they rarely know how they'll get them there. At times it's unnerving work. Lose your concentration or the line of tension in the story and both you and it fall. The best short stories have a breathless, in-motion quality to them, a quality that makes them ideal for adaptation into film, as directors are increasingly realising. A great story ending resonates far beyond its final word. It's a hit to the brain. I read stories and love them for that hit. As the writer Elizabeth Taylor commented, the short story gives the reader the feeling of "being lifted into another world, instead of sinking into it, as one does with longer fiction". The best stories leave you exhilarated.

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver

Story writers are naturally drawn to life's undersides - to the bits we perhaps shouldn't see. They're often private worlds, stolen glimpses, and we, the readers, are licensed voyeurs. Here, two couples, Mel, a cardiologist, his second wife Terri, and young Nick and Laura in their first flush of love, sit around a kitchen table sharing a drink. They talk, the sun goes down, the gin bottle drains. That's it. Or it would be, except inhibitions slip. An argument starts, emotions burst like blisters; they're covered over and burst again. As Nick and Laura struggle to hold onto their clich├ęs of romantic love, Terri claims that the ex-husband who used to drag her around the living room by her ankles really did love her. Carver had to have been influenced by Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Things get that ugly. But it's also profoundly moving as Mel struggles through the blur of the gin and the shadows of the setting sun to believe in the strength of the human heart.
Read the entire top ten.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love appears on Ward Just's list of six books with an “autumnal” quality and among Dennis Lehane's five favorite short story collections.

--Marshal Zeringue