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Reading you can fit into your holiday schedule

By Staff | Dec 17, 2009

Keep it short. Sometimes there just isn’t time to read a novel, but a little escape into fiction is needed. These collections of short stories fill the bill and will make great Christmas gifts. I’ll give you a taste of one story each and you can read the rest.

“Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It” by Maile Meloy, published by Riverhead Books contains eleven stories and most are about the push-pull of relationships. In “Liliana” a young husband and father opens the door to find his wealthy grandmother who supposedly died two weeks ago on his doorstep. She has left him, her only heir, out of her will and now appears to be there to reconsider. Each story is written with poignancy and humor, where love approaches and then recedes and where choices have to be made.

“The First Person and Other Stories” by Ali Smith, published by Pantheon is a witty collection of stories, all set in Britain. In one story, “The Child”, a woman goes grocery shopping and when her back is turned, someone puts a beautiful child in her shopping cart. When she tries to turn him in, no one believes that he isn’t her child so she puts him in her car whereupon the baby starts talking like a dirty old man. The woman is offended and completely unable to extricate herself from the situation. In another story, “The Writ”, a woman finds her 14-year-old self in her home and tries to have a relationship with herself. An underlying theme of most of the stories is what happens when the unexpected happens.

In Jill McCorkle’s collection, “Going Away Shoes”, published by Algonquin, each story has something to do with shoes and with going away. The title story tells of Debby, the caretaker daughter of her invalid mother. Her other sisters always promise her a cruise, time off from the tedium and work of taking care of her mother, but instead they drop in for short visits and act as if they are doing Debby a favor by letting her stay home. None of McCorkle’s characters are perfect which is what makes them so real.

Unlike the other three collections, “Hunger” by Lan Samantha Chang, published by W.W. Norton, this small book contains a novella and 5 stories. The novella, also called Hunger tells the story of a Chinese immigrant couple and their two daughters. The father is a musician who teaches at a music school, but because of his poor English, he is not able to advance. Their two daughters are very different, but both love music and as little girls, they are very close to their father. As they grow older, cultural and personality differences pull them in different directions. The author says “The past sees through all attempts at disguise” and these stories give real insight to the impact of the characters’ pasts on their present lives.

Alice Munro’s latest collection, “Too Much Happiness”, published by Knopf has already been highly praised by critics. Her stories are usually set in ordinary places, often in Canada, with ordinary people who sometimes show an almost lackadaisical cruelty toward each other. In “Child’s Play”, two summer camp friends resent a “special” girl’s efforts to befriend one of them and almost casually permanently stop her. Every story has a twist and nothing is as it seems in her stories. I was reminded of Shirley Jackson and her eerie stories.

Unlike the other collections, “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis”, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux is a life’s work and is over 700 pages long. The stories are presented chronologically covering a period of 21 years. Some of the stories are very short, with titles that are longer than the story itself. There is very little this author can’t do and it makes me wonder why I’ve never heard of her before.

Sometimes good fiction comes in small packages and I recommend any of these collections. Happy Holidays!