Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Not Expendable at all

I've never been much of a short story person. I prefer full length fiction; where characters grow (more in my imagination than on the page), stories spin around one another and I'm completely engrossed in the plot. I found Antonya Nelson not through word of mouth or book reviews, but browsing in a Greenwich bookstore. I bought 'The Expendables' (Book 8) by her along with 10 other books and only because it was the only one thin enough to fit into the already bulging bag and the jacket cover looked interesting enough. 'The Expendables' is a slim volume of short stories. I figured it would be a change from the droves of novels I have piled up. Each story filling a tube journey across London.

No such luck. One lazy afternoon on the couch and book finished. Same evening I told a friend it was a huge disappointment because for every story I kind of expected there to be a twist at the end and there ended up being none. Some of the prose was brilliant, passages that seemed poignant, ethereal and relevant all the same time. I don't like feeling disappointed with books of any kind so I resolved to give it a re-read and a second chance. Almost immediately. This time the book was magical. I read the whole book in one go and found the element I was looking for - a binder instead of a twist. Each and every story reinforced how fleeting and precious relationships can be. And there were relationshsips of all kinds: blind man-his wife-neighbours; teenager-her baby-baby's father-her parents; best friends; brother-sister-parents; father-son; dog owner-dog; neighbours; strangers. Through the collection the writing is smooth and characters are presented, followed by their situations, their actions but without a final twist or solution. We've become so used to reading books with happy, sad or known endings that this was a shock. I kept holding my breath, waiting for an outcome only to find I had to supply one of my own.

Almost all the stories veered toward the depressing end of the spectrum, but never without some humour thrown in. All the stories, without exception, lent a sense of hope to her characters that often belied their situations. So clear was her writing that I could feel the vulnerability and heartache of the characters, the drive to endure and the longing for their longing.

Subsequently googling her I found that she has received great press, including being named one of the twenty young fiction writers for the new millennium by the New Yorker. I'm not surprised.

I did leave it for the last of the Greenwich pile and that is the only regret. On the brighter side now that I have been introduced to her writing I'm craving for more.

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