Introduction – I read a lot, but reading for me is no easy task, because of my severe Dyslexia. I am a very slow reader when it comes to reading the printed page (~5 pages per hour depending on the page). I have come across two ways to counteract this problem, reading short stories and listening to audio books. I am a heavy writer of fiction in the short form and also a heavy reader of it, it’s a form that often gets put in the back seat and is easily ignored, though it has regained some popularity in recent years. I used to be able to get through one story as long as it would take a normal person to get through a novel (owning in part to the practice of writing short stories at the max length that they can still be called “short”), and by finishing the story it would feel as though I have accomplished something. Times have changed, I have grown, I can read at a somewhat faster rate now (though not “fast” by any means) and get through a story much quicker and a novel too, but I still haven’t lost my interest in the form. I have a large collection of audio books, many of these are audio short story collections. All these stories I have compiled into a large playlist (over 200 different stories about 7 days long if I remember correctly) and I plan on reading all of them, in alphabetical order, throughout this year, and I’ll write a brief review of each. So come back often to see the next instalment of the big stories review.
A&P – The first story on the list, because it falls alphabetically first, is John Updike’s perhaps best known short story. I’ve read this specific story 6 times so far at least. The first time I read it, in and for high school, I was very pissed off by it because it just seemed so insignificant and also not well written, using highly dated juvenile slang. It turned me off to Updike and it would be another 4 years or so before I took an interest in him and read some more of his stories, most of which are fantastic. Each time I read the story it gets a little better for me, I’ll admit that, but unfortunately it started so far below my standard for enjoyment, that even after six times of reading it it is still lukewarm at best. I did notice with this last reading though, how you can see a minimalist influence in the story, and minimalism is a style of writing that I have taken an if not profound then at least serious look into over the last year (even going so far as to at times alter my own writing style to be more, if not true, minimalist, though I don’t use this style for reviews, clearly).
Ace in the Hole – Evidently the god’s of happenstance smiled upon John Updike because the first two stories of all my audio story collection happen to be by him. This one is much better than A&P, though it’s again somewhat of a juvenile work, but more profound as it deals with religious differences and prejudices, “Ace” a Protestant former college basketball star has gotten fired from his job working for a Jewish car dealer and has to come home and tell his Roman Catholic wife. He’s in the hole with his wife (similar to being in the dog house) but he also tried to put a car into a very narrow spot which he calls a hole and which he messed up, thus causing his termination from the job. The title is also a reference to something good saved for when it’s needed most, so the title is at least a triple entendre. I am a huge fan of really good titles, whether they are something that draws your attention and makes you want to read it, or in this case something that has many different meanings within the story. Evidently when Updike submitted this story as a college creative writing project his professor said it scared him in addition to being one of the best pieces he had ever seen from a pupal, though the latter is not a huge surprise, this is Updike after all.
All Cats are Gray – I’ve read this story 3 times now, and I still don’t really understand it, which is kind of a problem for science fiction. There is way too much back story before the main story sets in, and the action of the story, the entire point of the story if you will, comes down to just one quick sentence that (when listening) you can easily miss. Of course the story was published in 1953 which was about 20 years before the audio form of story-telling really hit the market. I Just found out that Andre Norton was a woman and she died fairly recently (2005) at the age of 93, and also was one of the first majorly recognized females in the fantasy/sci-fi field. So maybe I won’t give up on her completely, but this story does not prove her case.
All God’s Children Can Dance – one of the six stories from Haruki Murakami’s “after the quake” (the English translation is intentionally not capitalized for at Murakami’s request for some reason) and one of the better ones from the collection. It deals heavily with extreme religion and a young man who has lost his faith, and is searching for his biological father. There’s not much more to say about the story other than that it is one of the “Hits” out of a story collection that is real “Hit or Miss.”
All That You Love Will be Carried Away – and 5 stories into the full collection we get our first Stephen King offering, he has the most stories in the greater anthology (3 of which are in “Stories A” alone). Stephen King is known as a horror writer, but this is a little oversimplified if you ask me, he is a truly multifaceted writer, this story is not even remotely scary nor intended to be, it is about a traveling salesman who comes to a motel somewhere in the Midwest to kill himself. He has a hobby of writing down poetic bathroom graffiti and wants to make a book of all the ones he’s collected through the years. There is a lot of time spent analyzing the different couplets he has come across, which is interesting because it gives a highly sophisticated look at and understanding of a very unsophisticated art form, and shows that if you know how to look there is beauty in just about everything, which is a good message to take away from the story. This is one of King’s later stories taken from the collection “Everything’s Eventual,” when King had developed into a much more versatile artist as opposed to just a simple horror writer.
Ambition – One of the stories from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fix-Up Novel “Haunted.” A Fix-Up Novel, since it may or may not be well know, is when a body of short stories are taken and formed into a novel, as opposed to a standard story collection. This story revolves around a conspiracy of art gallery owners and critics that insure their investments in particular artists by having other artists assassinate them. The artist who the story is about is called “The Duke of Vandals” and he had been caught painting things on sticker labels and then sticking them on the walls of museums or on priceless paintings themselves.
Amundsen – the first Alice Munro story of the collection, and it’s not one of her better ones. She is a capable story writer, but magnificent stories infrequently come through. This story is about a woman who goes to Amundsen (some small town in some part of Canada, I don’t quite remember where) to be a teacher at a tuberculosis hospital. While there she meets a cocky doctor who she may or may not be in love with. The real action of the story, the entire point of all of it takes place within about the last 10 minutes of the story, however the story is 69 minutes long so there is almost a full hour of setting, character development and subplot all of which don’t need to be there in order to tell the story it could have been reduced by half or even two thirds and have been in my opinion more successful. But what do I know, I’m just an avid short story reader, she on the other hand is a Nobel Laureate. Being that the story is 69 minutes long, it pushes it into the realm of “Long Story” as opposed to “Short Story,” and the first one to come across in this reading/reviewing project. When it comes to audio a short story (depending somewhat on the speed at which the reader reads) is about 45 minutes long. There are many stories in my collection that are not “Short” which is why this is titled “Stories A” and not the more ubiquitously used “Short Stories A.”
The Angle Esmerelda – The title story from Don DeLillo’s only story collection. This one is on just the other side of being short. The story is about a group of Nuns from the inner city that are trying to help the poor. There is a child living on the streets that the nuns are particularly interested in helping, but she is a runner and they aren’t able to catch her. This is also connected with a subplot about a billboard that’s ad is deteriorating to show a miraculous image coming through (like when you see Jesus in your toast, that kind of thing). DeLillo is an accomplished Novelist but not the best story writer out there; again they are two very different mediums. That being said this is one of the better stories from the collection, which it better be since it is the title story.
Audubon in Atlantis – This is neither a short story nor a long story, at 2.5 hours this goes into the realm of novella. I set the minimum of a novella at over 100 minutes, and the maximum is essentially anything that finds itself in a collection of stories as opposed to a standalone book, or a stand alone book that it’s author categorizes as a Novella. The longest story will come toured the end of this project that that is David Foster Wallace’s “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way” which is a whole 6 hours long. This is also one of unfortunately few (relatively speaking) Harry Turtledove stories in the collection, a writer who is slowly becoming one of my favorites. He’s a prolific writer with over 90 books to his name thus far and also a talented story writer. He is best known for (though not limited to) the genre of Alternate History. The only collection that seems to be in audio form (at least for now) is his “Atlantis and Other Places,” which has 14 stories, ten of which are in the alternate history vain. This story is set in his “Atlantis” a world which also has three other novels to the series and another Novella also in the same collection. His “Atlantis” is kind of like the east coast of the United States that has (millions of years ago) geographically broken off form the rest of the United States. In this story Audubon goes to Atlantis in order to sketch some of the wild life, he is specifically on the lookout for “Honkers” which are believed to be an endangered species. It also sets up some of the germs to be used in the other Atlantis story in the collection “The Scarlet Band.”
Autopsy Room 4 – Another Stephen King story. It is technically a horror story, but it is also a black comedy of sorts. The story is told in the first person about a man who wakes up to find himself paralyzed and on a steel operating table about to undergo an autopsy because the doctors and medics believe him to be dead. Yes the story is a titch scary when you imagine yourself in the same position, but the thoughts of the narrator are kind of funny at times, and the story has a funny punchline ending, which, now that I think about it, is not always common for a Stephen King story.
Ayana – this story by Stephen King is in no way a horror story. It’s about an unnamed little explained organization that goes around using some sort of magical gift in order to heal people who are dying. How? The one with the “gift” kisses the dying person and the dying person goes on for more years greatly healed from whatever ailed them. Sometimes the survivor is expected to repay the service, but in the case of the narrator he was given the gift even though it was his father that was kissed. This is a very warm and happy story coming from such a notably dark writer, and it comes from his latest and (though good but not quite) greatest story collection “Just After Sunset.” While writing this I discovered that there was one more story collection that was not in my complete audio anthology, called “Stories from: Night Shift” which is Stephen Kings first story collection sense a handful of pieces (notably “Children of the Corn” and “Trucks”). So now with that collection added in the full anthology is 184 hours long, comprised of 255 stories. Luckily none of those stories happened to start with the letter “A.”