Dismissed for a long time, short stories are now on the rise again. Vanessa Gebbie, author of more than a dozen novels as well as of a book of short stories, was recently writer in residence at the Gladstone’s Library, where she gave a day workshop on ‘flash writing’. She mentioned the name of Tania Hershman as a brilliant writer of such pieces. So when I discovered that the Gladstone’s Library had just acquired her collection of fifty-six short fictions published last year, I could not resist picking the book.
Any would-be writer, I think, should dive into this little book which offers its gems without any pretence of grandeur, but has a way of insinuating itself in your sinews without your even noticing. Those are very, very short, stories, flash stories, ‘emotionally wrenching, funny, quirky and full of condensed wisdom,’ as the back cover promises. They are almost poems, belonging more to a mood, or a fleeting moment in time than to the logic of the intellect.
I found that you have to catch these stories, let them go as fast as they came to you, and then go back to them; they won’t mind, and they will have a different taste that second time, a different flavour all for you. This is what makes them so, should I say, attractive, although many of them may seem at first disconcerting or even disturbing. There are books one would like to reread, but don’t have the courage or the time for – at least it is the excuse. But these short outbursts, these puzzling bits of life grip you and they won’t let you go, for the usual excuses don’t fit here.
Also a second reading has its rewards: One begins to appreciate the skill involved in those stories, the mingling of moods and feelings with the surroundings in a sentence like ‘my flickering self lit up by doubt and lit up by the lamp and by the moon’, or a fleeting reflection such as ‘when he had grown into an approximation of adulthood’. For a moment the statement stops you in your stride.
As a whole, one could say that a wind of freedom sweeps through those pages in which science and poetry stumble into each other and tantalizing shifts of perception expose our secret thoughts and feelings, some we did not even know we had. In short, this is a rich little book which will surprise, amuse and perhaps show you that life has more to it than you expect.