So, I made this goal for myself to read 80 books this year (sorry for the refrain, I know I've told you this like 5 million times so far). And then I panicked because I was behind schedule (something Goodreads is really good at guilting me about) and I sort of cheated and read three short stories I'd already read before. To be fair, I was trying to find a short story about a woman whose reflection takes over her life (alas! still searching for that) and I remembered these three and read them. Every English Major has read these, I'm pretty sure. But they are so good and do so much in such a short period of time. And I think there is just always something to talk about here.
So, first, The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin. This is a time-limit short story, explained in the title. It follows a woman through the experience of finding out her husband has died in a train accident. She locks herself away in her room and contemplates what her life will be like without her husband.
This story was written at the turn of the century and is lauded as an example of American feminist literature. It is an interesting thought experiment for a woman who limited options in her adult life and her only real freedom comes as a widow. This story is haunting and beautiful. And will probably always stick with me. Since it was published in 1894 you can find it online to read for free. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Next up, the truly haunting and terrifically creepy The Yellow Wallpaper chronicles the story of a woman in the countryside recovering from recently giving birth. Her doctor husband has prescribed this country rest in order for her to recover from hysterical tendencies. The story is told from her perspective and she grows increasingly obsessed with the pattern of the wallpaper in the old nursery. Trapped in this room the woman slowly loses her mind. Her journal entries become more sporadic and hurried after her husband tells her she's not allowed to write anymore because it triggers her nervousness. As the woman's autonomy and voice are hindered more and more she is increasingly haunted by women she sees in the wallpaper pattern. This story terrified me the first time I read it. It's such an interesting record of life in the 1890s and the misdiagnosis of women that has always been part of history and a problem that still plagues us today.
Closing out this odd trilogy of stories from the 1890s is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. I am OBSESSED with this time-limit story. We read it, I think, in my YA Lit Writing class at USF specifically for the concept of time-limits and this inspired my favourite short story I've written. The character, Peyton Fahrquhar, finds himself standing on a bridge with a noose around his neck after deserting during the Civil War. The story so deftly creates a scenario where Peyton escapes the hanging unscathed, travels across the barren war front, sees his home and his beautiful wife and at the last second, his neck snaps. It just. Man, it takes you for this incredible ride. And everything that happens takes place from the time he is pushed off the bridge until gravity does its gruesome work. Someone on Goodreads asked how you know what is real in the story. I responded that everything is real. (Which makes me think of The Things They Carried and the thing I love MOST about fiction: real doesn't impact true). Anyway, this story is crazy. I love it so much and I definitely understand why it's in the pantheon of American Literature.
Short stories are these amazing, wonderful things to me. A novel takes all kinds of special pacing and patience. Short stories build worlds out of vaguery. They immerse you right into the thick of things and don't give you all of the details on purpose to ramp up the suspense. And there is always some kind of twist or pay off that feels so powerful in relation to how short the story is. It is truly awe-inspiring to me what we can do with language and imagination. How far we can take it, how we can keep it simultaneously small and universal. That stories connect us all the way back through our entire existence and cast out dreams and hopes (and sometimes nightmares) for the future. I'm truly in love with this element of human creativity and so inspired by this style of story-telling.
Do you have any favorite short stories? Any stories that stick with you for how real they are? I'd love to hear about them below. After all, I'm still trucking toward 80 and I'm not quite halfway there.... I'm gonna have to squeeze a few more short, quick reads in.