Something I love about fiction is how it explores the gap between expectation and reality: what we expect out of life and relationships and events and what we get. I was thinking about this when I wrote the short story, ‘Kid-Free’, which is published in The Sleepers Almanac Number 8. ‘Kid-Free’ is set in a touristy north-coast town where a couple have gone on holiday. Upon arrival, they find that the place is completely different than what they imagined. To make things worse, they are trying for a baby and having difficulty conceiving. Their different attitudes about this become evident as the story progresses. Is a shared history, and shared trauma, enough to base a relationship on?
I find the short story to be a challenging form. The economy of it means that you have very little space to develop your plot and your characters and everything can turn on a single moment. Short stories take more intensive drafting and editing than long fiction: you’re going over the same sentences again and again until they do your head in. Yet when you read them they need to seem effortless, as though they are a floating fragment from life. Along with other Almanac authors I was asked by Readings booksellers recently for their monthly newsletter about my favourite short story. Here is my answer:
I was a high school student in Arlington, Virginia the first time I read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People” in her collection A Good Man is Hard to Find. It has lingered in my head ever since. Her bleak portrait of an unhappy family – mother and grown daughter at odds – is shaken up by a visit from a Bible salesman. There is more than a touch of the Southern Gothic in O’Connor’s writing but there is also an economy to her words in this story. The epiphany that the daughter has with the Bible salesman is fleeting and ends up being this extraordinary moment of grace amidst the stark landscape of her life. And then it all disappears as quickly as it has come, and no one is quite who they appeared to be. It is a haunting story and one that reminds me how powerful short fiction can be.
Who are your favourite short story authors? Do you have any particular stories to recommend? The Sleepers Almanac No. 8 is launched this week in Melbourne (I wish I could be there!) and can be purchased online here. My copy is in the mail and I can’t wait to read all of the stories that it holds.