Short Story Land wouldn’t be a nice place to live: tragedies abound, trauma and misery are rife, everybody’s lonely and the body count is high. Happy marriages do not exist; neither do happy endings. A few years ago, I realised I was drawn to stories that manage to transcend these wretched parameters; stories that offer some sort of redemptive moment, that keep characters alive and offer second chances. I’m interested in moments of connection and compassion – difficult to do well without being saccharine or disingenuous. But as Flannery O’Connor states: “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored”.
These selected stories are hymns to the persistence of life, from Levi’s uplifting memoir sketches to Ruth’s acknowledgement in ‘Romantic’ that “One thing in my favour is I am alive”. This has become more important to me than ever over the last few years, when I have begun to read for therapy as much as for research or pleasure. I like authors who astutely nail the subtle tectonics of relationships, both between people and the relationships with ourselves, as exemplified by Grace Paley and Lucia Berlin. The desire to be truly seen or known, to have a voice, to be loved against the odds.
These stories made me a more compassionate writer. My characters used to die all the time; they were voiceless, vulnerable, weird, and the world hated them. But now I keep people alive and let the surprise of kindness in. As Paley says, “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the destiny of open life”.T