I’ve never really got to grips with short stories. It wasn’t like I didn’t try. My first literary hero was Edgar Allen Poe, and I spent my mid-teens writing tales which delighted in darkness and imagination. I had a favourite English teacher— a neat and dapper man who smoked Marlboro Reds and drove a 2CV— who I trusted as my first critical reader. He was very patient with me, and read my stories during his lunch break, giving me marks for each one, even though nothing would contribute to my coursework.
Later on, I would discover poetry- specifically The Penguin Book of American Verse, the one with the glorious Pop Art cover- and I would trace down all its leads, and follow the forks in the road. I only returned to short fiction again years later, while I was in a prolonged sulk with poetry, when I couldn’t read it or respond to it, when I hated it all, particularly my own version of it. I’d written a novel, and I figured that the best novelists were failed poets anyway. I was qualified for the task.
When I look over the stories I wrote during this time, I’m pleased with moments of character, or description, but the overall dramatic action remains too elusive and unformed. I’d read Flannery O’Connor, like everyone should, but somehow must have felt that her advice for students of the short story didn’t apply to me:
‘[They] think that a short story is an incomplete action in which a very little is shown and a great deal suggested, and they think you suggest something by leaving it out. It’s very hard to disabuse a student of this notion, because he thinks that when he leaves something out, he’s being subtle; and when you tell him that he has to put something in before anything can be there, he thinks you’re an insensitive idiot.’
Any writer of short stories needs that tattooed on their arm. (If they have a long arm, and they want it tattoo-ed there).
Recently, though, I rediscovered some short fiction which I must have written about eight or so years ago. In part, this happened while trying to track down some old publications, which I guess is a writer’s equivalent of mooning over photos of your first love. One story had escaped even the internet’s memory, which must be a new standard for obscurity. Anyway, I did my bit to rescue it from the abyss, and posted it on the blog. While looking for it, I discovered some other, similar, fragments, which I had thought that I’d lost. My model for these pieces was Kafka’s short, short fiction, particularly the incredible ‘Reflections for Gentlemen Jockeys‘.
For all their rawness, these fictions strike me as more honest than the straight stories I’ve tried to write. Halfway between poems and narrative, they are little style pieces, pitched directly from the mind and the heart. I’m going to post them here because it’s unlikely they would find a home in any other publication. Mainly, though, it’s because they seem made for blog posts, forgotten things brought back into the light.
© Daniel Bennett