Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shirley Jackson Broke Us

The Lottery Big Read at bookshelves of doom petered out short of completion earlier this week. I think the problem was two-fold:

1. Short story collections don't generate a lot of narrative drive that makes readers want to move on and see what happens next because what happens next has already happened, and then you have to start over. As my cousin Bobby once said, you have to commit the same amount of energy to getting to know characters, setting, and situation whether you're reading a short story or a novel except that with a short story, by the time you're up to speed, you're done. It hardly seems worth it.

2. These particular short stories were originally published in the 1940s, and, personally, I find work from the forties and fifties dated in a bizarre way. I say bizarre because I've read short stories from even earlier periods that didn't bother me at all. For instance, I read Daisy Miller (set in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century--I can't remember which) a couple of years ago and felt it connected very nicely with some contemporary YA novels I'd been reading. The Hunger Artist, published in the 1920s, didn't bother me, either.

But forties and fifties fiction seems so close to our own time but wrong somehow, as if we're talking about an alternative reality of some kind.

I did finish the book, though. More about that another time.

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