Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Haddon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Haddon. Show all posts

05 August, 2016

Mark Haddon, "The Pier Falls"

In this omniscient viewpoint story, the POV moves around to different people and also forward in time, hours, days, months, years, and many years. "They will stay in touch with one another for the next thirty years." Also, as the story progresses the reader is given a time and body count, "Twenty-five minutes. Sixty-one dead."

It's a tragic story in that many people are killed when the bolts supporting a pier shear off and the boardwalk/pier crashes and breaks apart flinging people sixty feet down into the ocean. The writing style makes the event feel real and immediate without an over abundance of blood and guts. "The struggling woman drops to her knees and digs her hands into the sand as if nothing and no one is going to separate her from solid ground ever again."

It's told in present tense which also makes it feel immediate and as though we are witnessing it happen in front of our eyes. Haddon gives enough specifics in the first couple of pages that sets the mood and place. The first line of the story is a specific date which gets the reader in the mindset right away that this is a real event, a specific event.

dried seahorses in cellophane
The story opens with the variety of people at the beach and their various activities. And, then at "nine minutes to five" the lovely day changes, "a rivet fails." The omniscient voice is apparent here, "Five have sheared already in heavy January seas earlier that year." And, "There are now two rivets holding the tonnage previously supported by eight." A heavy reminder here of the importance of maintaining infrastructure. When the "pier drops by half an inch," there is a great physical description that we have all experienced, "The same momentary reduction in weight you feel when a lift starts descending." People are generally positive and assume nothing is wrong and they return to "eating their pineapple fritters and rolling coins into the fruit machines."  And, towards the end the story closes with "Ten years after the disaster the pier is brought down in a series of controlled explosions..."

For me, the theme is about the fragility of life, the sudden way in which life can turn on a dime. But also, the way in which life continues. It may not continue for individuals but for the multitudes, it continues. The metaphorical pier, our lives are piers for ourselves and others, is demolished and erased and that's it. Those who are alive continue.

This is a great story and opens Haddon's collection of the same name, The Pier Falls and Other Stories. At first, I thought it a boring title for a story, but after reading it I like the matter-of-factness of the title. The pier broke and fell and people died and that's it. Not that it's not important, not hurtful, not sad or could have been avoided, but just that shit happens and then what's left continues. "The Pier Falls" was first published in The New Statesman and then was in the running for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.

04 October, 2014

Mark Haddon, "The Gun"

"The Gun" is about time, memory, history and place. Events that occur during our lifetimes are never really in the past. They are right up there in front of us dictating, to varying extents, our present tense lives.

A fifty year old man has gone home for his mother's funeral and relives a memory when he and a friend killed a deer, hauled it to his friend's apartment and his friend's brother butchered it and the mother roasted it. Kind of crazy and absurd which is just the type of personal experience that haunts a person forever, coloring his or her life and reactions forever.

The deer portions of the story occurred in the past but are told in the present tense coupled with the present events and interjected with things that will happen, future tense, even as the narrator has already experienced these futures, "he will be repeatedly amazed at how poorly everyone remembers their childhoods." This is effective as it marries well with the theme of our pasts actually being right up front with us, never really in the past but alive and well in our minds and registering with us always. "It all comes back so vividly that he nearly brakes for the two boys running across the carriageway pushing the pram." And, to punch home the theme, "Robert Hales and Robert Hales and Robert Hales, the same person, growing old and dying and being reborn in the stink and the half-light." There is another entire paragraph about time as well. "Time is nothing but forks...he will remember...for he will come to realize that a part of himself now exists in a parallel universe to which he has no access."

The image of the two boys pushing an old rusted pram with a dead deer on it across the roadway is pretty astounding and stark. But beyond that is the image of them taking it onto a mirrored elevator and onto an apartment balcony. Yikes. Some of the story seems so absurd until you remember that the story is really about time and history and how memories change with time. Sometimes they are greatly enhanced and/or diminished.

"The Gun" was first published in Granta magazine and then selected for inclusion in 2014 O'Henry Prize Stories. It is really a great story, one that will never be entirely consumed. I've only touched on the stories complexities and details.

Favorite Lines:
"Breath gargles through a patch of bloody fur on its neck."

"Perhaps the difference is this, that he will notice, that he will see things in this way when others don't, that he will remember an August afternoon when he was ten years old and feel the vertigo you feel walking away unharmed from a car crash."

"He will be repeatedly amazed at how poorly everyone remembers their childhoods, how they project their adult selves back into those bleached-out photographs..."

Wikipedia page - Mark Haddon