Short stories are a great way to have a full literary experience in a short period of time, which more and more seem to be the only periods of time (i.e. short) that I can afford to devote to reading. And so I have sort of fallen in love with the genre. Or re-fallen in love. I have never not liked short stories; it is just that I have come to appreciate them more and more as free-reading time becomes less and less (the need and desire for good literature, of course, never ceasing, but ever increasing, despite impending constraints that I would happily abandon if I could figure out a way to even quasi-feasibly do so).
And so, it was in this context that I picked up My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro, as compiled by Jeffrey Eugenides (a great author in his own right; if you haven’t yet read The Marriage Plot, by all means drop everything and don’t resurface until you have).
The collection embodies an interesting take on “love” stories. This is not your traditional fare: no happily ever after or spell-breaking kisses or knights riding off into the sunset here. No, that would be much too mundane (and unrealistic), right? These stories capture the complication of actual “love,” including the not-quite love, the yearning, wanting, seeking, unrequited sentiments (expressed or not), the uncertainty that makes it exciting, the potential agony that makes it risky, the (occasional) pleasant surprises that make it worth the corresponding vulnerability and inevitable rejections. Also some danger and betrayal. And not just entirely un-naughty.
The selections, as in actual stories/authors chosen, are, for lack of a better term, interesting. Obvious romantic authors have been left out. There is some great stuff from writers you have never heard of. There is some disappointing stuff from authors you have heard of, and even like, but the entry here will leave you flat. But there will definitely be something to be felt by all. To be enjoyed.
For some reason I really, really liked one called “Jon,” by George Saunders. And “How to be an Other Woman,” not by George Saunders, but I can’t remember who. And “Natasha.” Also “Innocence,” though a bit much, sort of struck me as humorous and McEwan-ish, somewhere between On Chesil Beach and the library scene of Atonement (book, not film).
And others. Far too many to dissect each one. And it is lengthy, so I wouldn’t recommend attempting to plow through the whole thing at a sitting. And, in case this wasn’t already apparent, not the lightest or most cheerful material you will ever encounter. But if you need a short story fix, and you are put off by all the cheesy Hollywood romance stuff on TV, you will probably find something for you. Happy reading!