Do short stories demand more or less of our attention? As I make room for them in my reading these days, I’m finding they require more attention and space in between reading each story in the collection. Unlike a novel that sweeps you into a narrative spanning a longer time period, with multiple characters, for hundreds or sometimes, thousand of pages, short stories are altogether different. Short stories are short moments in time, and frequently the stories and characters are not connected or related.
Allowing myself more time to expand the contours of the story, within a few pages, seems to require more of my imagination. I’m an everyday reader with a determination to read more of what I might not have read in the past, and short stories are helping me do something different. Short stories allow for the expansion in their subtlety; of what is said and what remains unsaid, things you could very well do in reading a novel, but you with much less to work with. I’ll try my best to highlight some of my favorite moments reading this collection.
In Mansfield’s, The Garden Party and Other Stories, my expectation were few. In the first story, At the Bay, there was such a keen awareness of feeling although nothing climatic happens. One of the most memorable scenes was with Kezia and her grandmother. Kezia demands her grandmother to promise she will never leave her, to not die. As kids,we are carefree and the notion of death seems far removed from our young minds. No one we love and cherish can leave us, it’s just not possible. As much as her grandmother would like to make such a promise, she knows it’s one she can’t keep. Kezia seems to start grasping that concept slowly after she yells, “Say never! Say never”!
At the Bay made me think about gender roles, perceptions, childhood, the simplicity of childhood but also a longing to do something outside of our normal, routine everyday life. I was reading The Garden Party at the same time as Elizabeth von Arnim’s, The Enchanted April, and was susprised to discover the two women were cousins. Perhaps they mused over such topics because the restlessness of routine life for women overlapped in both titles.
The Garden Party, the title story, we realize despite our best plans for happiness, what could disrupt a garden party? Circumstances beyond our control can and do happen, which can have an unexpected impact. The empathy Laura feels is crushing, almost to the point she’s ready to cancel her party. But I admire her determination to show neighborly love and empathy. In doing so, she’s reminded that life is a gift; we shouldn’t take it or the people in it for granted, because, “it is glorious to live…because life is darling.“
Mr. and Mrs. Dove metaphorically illustrates the flightliness of young love, especially unrequited live. After a young man musters up the courage to declare his love to a young woman named Anne, a woman above his station, she uses the doves to explain to him how fleeting a fairy tale like love is. She’s smart enough to realize she wants more and is honest enough to help him see that too. The things we can learn when we observe intently the birds of heaven.
Do you make time for short stories in your reading? Have you read any of Mansfield’s work? Do you have any favorite story collections? When I was browsing my bookshelf, I found The Colleted Stories of Katherine Mansfield. I’m sure I’ll read more of her stories in the future.