Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.

16 August, 2017

Gunnhild Øyehaug, "The Girl Holding My Hand"

Gosh, what a great story. A young man and woman are in the park in a town away from home. He, in first-person, tells of all of her fears and her longings. She's on the lookout for, at first I thought just the perfect guy, but it seems she's searching, always looking, for an ex-lover. He sacrifices to be with her when he knows that she wants someone else. "Because she's not in love with me. I know that. I know she's in love with someone else in this town. Obsessed."

I understand why Lydia Davis and Stuart Dybek wrote blurbs for the book. I can imagine that they both said, "A ha," when they first read these stories. The three of them seem, to me, to be kindred. Øyehaug reaches those emotional truths that we usually cannot even explain about or to ourselves. And, she does it without telling a traditional story with the so-called narrative arc, yet is suspenseful. The stories are not vignettes either. A lot is left unsaid but that makes the reader all that more of a participant in the story. The poetic effect is that these stories will never be fully consumed. "Always takes my hand. I can see that she's caught up in something I should not ask about. If I ask about it now, she'll purse her lips and look down at the ground."

Kudos to the translator Kari Dickson.

15 August, 2017

Gunnhild Øyehaug, "Overtures"

Ragnhild, a young girl, hides in her bedroom, spies on her cousin and the boy next door, needs to pee, fears a wasp in her room, and doesn't want to play the piano for her grandfather. The story is told in a very close 3rd person POV that feels first-person. Some sentences are short and some are very long. The writing is concise and realistic. The reader can feel the insecurities of young Ragnhild. While an overture is being made by the boy next door to her cousin, Ragnhild has to play an overture in key of F. Her father hums the key to help her get started. She's been practicing and can play it perfectly when alone. Now with an audience, she freezes up, finally plays it, but claims not to have played it correctly. We don't really know. Although, it's a third-person story, it is so close that it reads and feels like it's in first-person and therefore we don't know how reliable the narrator is. The story dissects a few minutes time in a young, insecure girl's life, and wrenches every speck possible from those few minutes.

Knots: Stories was first published in Norway in 2012 and only translated by Kari Dickson and published in the United States in 2017.

13 August, 2017

Gunnhild Øyehaug, "Nice and Mild"

The first story in the collection, Knots: Stories shows an older man trying to "sort out" his life. He's been trying to gather the courage to go to IKEA to purchase blinds for his son who has been complaining of the sunshine glaring on his computer screen. The story takes place in the time the  main character pulls into the parking lot and when he runs into his wife who is already at the store with the neighbors and he hides behind a stack of salad bowls.

The story is told in first-person POV, I and me, and then sometimes moves into second person POV that still reads as first-person. The reader is never privy to anything outside of what the MC experiences through his eyes and mind. Throughout the story he reminds the reader that he is recording the tennis tournament between Anna Kournikova and Serena Williams. I like the
idea of the ball going back and forth which reiterates his mind going back and forth that he can buy the blinds or not.

I love stories like this that do not go into a lot or any backstory, but delve deeply into the protagonist's mind like a laser. And, do we always have to know everything? Can't we sometimes just take a person where they are at any given moment? The story is only a little over nine pages long.

I discovered the author Gunnhild Øyehaug at the new independent bookstore Interabang Books in Dallas. A review of her collection at Zyzzyva.