The Short Story pt. 1 – Revenge

Recently and with mixed feelings I finished reading Yoko Ogawa’s “Revenge,” a collection of somewhat macabre short stories (billed as “eleven dark tales”). This was one of those random reads for me; without prior knowledge of the author or her work, I picked it up on the strength of a colleague’s recommendation.

The reason this is “The Short Story pt. 1″ is that I have a somewhat complicated love/hate relationship with short stories. As a writer, there are times when I enjoy writing them, but more often than not I find that they quickly become either over-wrought, or they “disappear up their own asshole,” as Kurt Vonnegut would say. As far as short fiction goes, I most enjoy writing so-called “flash” fiction (ie <1000 words). And as a reader, short story collections definitely have a habit of disappointing me, with notable exceptions, and I think it will take more than one blog post to untangle my feelings.

Ogawa’s collection was a bit of both – excitement and disappointment. Let me say first that I was entranced throughout by her gentle, honest writing style. Her prose felt very natural, and was quick and easy to read. It belied the dark elements of the stories that often came right at the end; sometimes this “shock-ending” device worked, and sometimes it didn’t. My favourite example of this sort of ending is still Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady.”

The neat thing about this collection is that all of the stories were somehow interconnected. Generally this meant that the major plot element in one story would appear as a minor but scintillating detail in the next. At first I very much enjoyed the way Ogawa did this, but towards the end it grew tiresome, felt somewhat like a gimmick. Of course I started trying to think of ways that… someone… might do it better, without any notable epiphanies. By the last story it was just a bit too cute.

Regardless, despite its flaws, this little book is one of the best short story collections I’ve read recently. It’s certainly not a terribly involved read, and there are some occurrences that might prove disturbing for the faint of heart, but overall it was entirely enjoyable.




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