In his matter-of-fact style and tone, Doctorow tells the tale of Jolene's life, from fifteen until she's about twenty-six. One horrible experience after another but she's a creative survivor. The story was made into a movie in 2008 directed by Dan Ireland.
Doctorow's story is all "telling" with virtually no "showing." He's primarily a novelist which carries over into his short story. "Jolene: A Life" is 28 pages long, covers about ten years, three marriages, several run-ins with the law and institutions. Doctorow sometimes covers a long span of time with many instances of violence in the space of less than a page. I appreciate the clarity and succinct style but it's not the emotional exploration I usually like in short stories.
"Jolene: A Life" is one of five short stories in his collection titled Sweet Land Stories published in 2004. E. L. Doctorow died a couple of days ago at the age of 84.
Charles E. May has an interesting and thoughtful essay about Doctorow at his blog: Reading the Short Story. And a new essay just posted after Doctorow's death.
07 July, 2010
The New Yorker. The story consists only of dialogue. It's amazing that with no exposition, we know and "see" intimate problems and personalities of this New Jersey surburban couple. The story consists of about 10 scenes and although it is all dialogue, it is clear who is speaking and what the new scene is. An old man in a beat up car appears in front of this couple's house and everything changes for them. The old-man is the catalyst exposing the couple's troubled marriage and shines a light on how they've succumbed to predictability in the suburbs. This is a really great short story and deserves to be read, again and again.