I am good for one story. One story at a time. In a novel I have time to think. Time to propose hypotheses about characters and see if they pan out; time to change them if necessary.
In short stories there’s no time. You’re all “what did that—” and then bam, you’re done. I knew this writing short stories. It was supposed to be a strength, this very American, very Hemingway man-of-few-words medium, but it felt like an unfair advantage. “Didn’t see what I did there? Well you’re probably just not good enough at short story close reading.” It felt like cheating.
I just read the next story in Sweet Talk, the one that shares the title of the collection. And it was wasted on me, because I was still trying to figure out the previous story from this morning. Had she been trying to be cruel, when she called out after him by the river? It had never dawned on me that she was. I thought she was just 12, and confused. I didn’t care about this new couple, not until the end, by which point I’d been paying too little attention (more enthralled by the land described, all of which, except for Reno, I know intimately) to know what had actually transpired. The short stories I’ve touted in recent years have all come to me singly, outside of their collections, powerful. Transatlantic, Dog Heaven, Katherine Comes To Yellow Sky. The collections are blurs of aphorisms. Interpreter of Maladies: losing your child kills your marriage. Unaccustomed Earth: keeping your child can kill your marriage. Half In Love: your petty grudge will get you killed messily out on your deck. I Was Told There’d Be Cake: basically the entire plot of HBO’s Girls was written a decade beforehand. Girls minus terrorism, if you will.
The lone stories last. I should just read one every few weeks or something. The rest are just sliding past like scenery.