Friday, October 15, 2004

I've been immersing myself in short stories lately, mainly because of our recent jaunts to Powell's and the number of bad anthologies I picked up there. Yesterday, however, I found the library (my wallet breathes a sigh of relief), and while our tax money seems to have gone to the building before the collection, I was able to find several things I'd been wanting to read. One was the latest from A.S. Byatt, a collection of stories called Little Black Book of Stories, which I read more or less in one sitting. Of course I inhaled them too fast, and will probably have to go back and savor them more carefully, but it's difficult not to gobble when the fare is so wonderfully tasty. There is a definite knack to short stories that, for lack of a better word, I call snarkiness--a sort of sly, wry humor that turns around at the end and elbows the reader in the back--and Byatt possesses it beyond a doubt. Someday, maybe, if I ever get to practicing, you'll see something from me like that.

Anyway, every story in this book is a gem. I particularly liked the first one, where two young girls sent away from their homes during WWII discover something bizarre and old and earth-shattering in a forest, and are forever after secretly affected by it; if ever anyone had an excuse for psychological hangups in later life caused by childhood nastiness, it was these two girls. Another story follows a doctor's concern for a young artist who is hired to decorate the hospital for Christmas and stays on afterwards, living in corners and creating strange and frightening sculptures with medical artifacts from the basement, and their disastrous but compelling love affair. The last story gives account of a husband dealing with the last stages of his wife's descent into Alzheimer's, detailing the small harmless ways in which he exacts revenge for her tantrums and messes, and the curious late-night visits of a beautiful woman who seems to know all about him and his wife. Every one made me shudder a little, and at the same time yearn for such talent.

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