Today, I have put together two reviews of short story collections which I was expecting to love, but which both somewhat disappointed me.
Tenth of December by George Saunders **
I had yet to read any of George Saunders’ work before picking up his much-lauded short story collection, Tenth of December. The author won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which, on reflection, perhaps would have been a better place to start with his work.
I must admit that I wasn’t really a fan of Saunders’ prose in this collection. The stories often go off at tangents, and I did not feel as though the different disjointed threads always came together in the end. The stories here are certainly varied – there are forays into science-fiction, and some writing which verges on the experimental, for instance – but I did not find that a single tale stood out for me as a reader. Some of the storylines themselves intrigued me, but others ended too abruptly. The story ‘Sticks’ only covers two pages, and was the tale which I could see the most potential in.
I felt pulled in by very few of the stories in Tenth of December. I ended up reading the first four pages or so of the tales, and if they had not captured my attention, I moved on. I was expecting to find moments of brilliance in this collection, but was unable to. So many people have loved these short stories, so perhaps I’m missing something, but throughout I found so little to connect with. I’m now unsure whether to read Lincoln in the Bardo based on my experience of this collection.
Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill **
Mary Gaitskill’s short story collection, Don’t Cry, was first published in the USA in 2009, and in the United Kingdom in 2017. Gaitskill was not an author whom I had read before, but I’d heard such great things about her writing, and consequently picked up Don’t Cry when browsing in my local library.
Described as ‘full of jagged, lived emotion and powerful, incisive writing’, I was certainly intrigued by this collection, which is made up of ten stories. Gaitskill’s opening sentences are often quite startling and unusual, and sometimes packed a real punch. ‘College Town, 1980’, for instance, begins: ‘Dolores did not look good in a scarf’; and ‘Mirror Bowl’ opens ‘He took her soul – though, being a secular-minded person, he didn’t think about it that way’. They also provide a sense of intrigue. ‘Don’t Cry’, the title story, has ‘Our first day in Addis Ababa, we woke up to wedding music playing outside our hotel’ as its first sentence.
I admired Gaitskill’s skill at creating striking sentences and images, but found that there was perhaps a little too much sexual content, darkness, and grit in Don’t Cry for my personal taste. I found a few of the stories grotesque, and quite difficult to read in consequence. Whilst Gaitskill’s stories are largely about everyday occurrences, she twists them around until they seem nasty and unsettling. Only some of her characters interested me, and I wasn’t that taken by her quite matter-of-fact writing. The title story in the collection was by far my favourite, but it has not led me to want to pick up any more of Gaitskill’s work in future.
Have you read either of these collections? Are there any authors whose short stories you would particularly recommend to me?