I traded in one of my Christmas gifts for a copy of Alice Munro’s newest collection of stories, Too Much Happiness. It’s providing perfectly economical writing lessons. Although only two thirds of the way through the first piece, “Dimensions”, this morning I spent an hour taking notes on it. So far so good. I’m . . . I’ll say it . . . I’m entertained.
Confession: I like the things I read to provide enjoyment. And my taste tends to be on the elementary end of the spectrum. I hate it about myself. Would love to say that I couldn’t put the Brothers Karamozov down. I hear it’s incredibly entertaining, spent time researching which translation to buy, acquired it, and left it upstairs on the shelf next to my less carefully chosen translation of War and Peace. You should see what’s up there. I’m hoarding literature like it’s Campbell’s soup during the nuclear arms race.
I’m finally able to admit that up until now short stories have almost always pissed me off. Back in college, I bought up some Raymond Carver and tried to convince myself I loved his work. I was oblivious to the fact that all I really wanted was a reason to talk to the hippy goth hybrid guy working at Borders. I gathered Joyce Carol Oats and Grace Paley like the good English minor that I was. It’s amazing how one can obtain solid Bs (even a few As) without ever actually reading the assigned material.
The thing that has repeatedly annoyed me with short stories is that even if I feel an urge to turn the page and keep reading, even if the language is impressively fresh, by the end, I either feel (best case) that the whole thing was pointless or (worst case) as if the author took a dull tool and gouged out a part of my torso. Last year I spent an afternoon of quiet time with Annie Proulx. “The Half-Skinned Steer” to be specific (oh GOD, why didn’t I pay attention to the title before I read it?). She’s on the payroll of the pharmaceutical companies, isn’t she? Don’t tell me that woman isn’t selling Zoloft!
Earlier, though, before the ending broke me, Proulx’s language reminded me why I love to write.
Time for my day job. I’ll keep you posted about how “Dimensions” ends.