Monday, 17 September 2012

Some powerful short stories

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Following a friend's recommendation I read two short stories recently: one was completely new, one was revisiting something I read many years ago. Wow! Both really impressed me, primarily as stories, but with the added benefit of saying something about the world too. I love things that work on multiple levels. They're both concerned with women and society, like my recent story Balance.

I recommend reading both if you haven't already. This is what I said about them on Goodreads.

The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I read this many years ago as a child, when I took it to be a literal story about a haunted house, with a ghost behind the paper making a woman mad. As an adult I see the subtexts about women's freedom vs control and confinement, expression vs creative sterility, obsession. Anything that works on multiple levels and offers different interpretations impresses me. I love the way repetition is used to build up unease, and the way the descent into madness is achieved so fluidly in such a limited word count whilst still being convincing. It manages to be so chilling, despite the apparent light tone in parts, helped by the ominous pictures such as descriptions of the wallpaper in terms of fungus or seaweeds, and images such as women crawling and creeping in shadows. The use of irony punctuates the whole piece, e.g. "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction."

The story doesn't answer every question, but tells us enough. It is a fantastic and important piece of fiction.

[Wikipedia article; get the story here]


The Lottery
by Shirley Jackson

A story that gets under your skin, like all the best ones. Great use of suspense, as little details build up and change their meaning. The start gave me flashbacks to John Christopher's 'The Tripods'. I love the way it doesn't tell you everything but leaves you to fill in your own background, own story.

I could see the ending coming, which took away a bit of the shock (but not the enjoyment). I'm not sure if I predicted the end because my mind works that way, or because it is so well signposted in the story. It is still haunting and powerful.

If you re-read it then the opening paragraph has a new element of horror since you know what the story is about: "the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner." The fact that anyone could be thinking about such mundane things as dinner is where the horror lies, along with the jovial good nature of the start of the event.
[Wikipedia article]

If you want to watch filmed versions, then there is this black and white film of The Lottery (10 mins). There is another version too, in colour: I prefer this one. Each part is 10 mins. Part 1, part 2.
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