Monday, 22 March 2010

Night Shift 20th Feb - 8th Mar 2010

I love short fiction.

I’ve said that for quite a number of years, but am now starting to wonder how true it is. I don’t think anything has changed in my appreciation of the format and its particular ability to enchant, beguile, confuse and enlighten in such a short time. As a man of few words, vocally at least, I’ve always aimed to practice a level of efficiency in my dialogue to ensure that I say what I mean and little more. Speaking for the sake of it doesn’t interest me.

In the same way, I’ve always marvelled at how a story can be pared back to its bare flesh and yet still evoke something which is much more than the sum of its parts. I know I’m mixing metaphors, but I haven’t really sat down and thought about what I’m saying, I’m just saying it for a change.

As a necessary element of the short story, so much is left unsaid. Motives and reasons for being are often left to supposition and guesswork. Endings are often ambiguous. I love that about short stories. There are some people who baulk at this lack of resolution. They need to take away answers, not a list of questions. For me, though, the open-endedness is the beauty of it. Nagging questions enervate something vital and practically alive in the story. For something old and written by a long-dead author, there’s almost something magic about that. In the same way, a story where all the loose ends are conveniently tied up can be more easily put aside and forgotten.

It’s the reason I love Kafka. The Metamorphosis is hands-down my favourite fictional work. I know it’s on the long side to be called a short-story, but still.

Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology and a hundred other stories is an awesome example of the majesty of brevity and is highly recommended, along with every other word the man has written. Go to forthwith.

With all that said, I didn’t enjoy Night Shift half as much as I expected. That's not to say I didn't.  Just not as much as expected.  It was also clear from the publishing dates that these are the his earliest writings and you can tell.  Short stories generally come with a requisite powerful, intriguing, nerve wracking premise and plot where everything happens in a short period. I’m not sure horror really lends itself to that short window of exposition and action. My favourites from Night Shift were The Boogeyman, Sometimes They Come Back, The Ledge, Quitters Inc.

Considering I two of the four stories I just listed would be classed as horror, I’m clearly talking out of my arse. I also haven’t read a great deal of Poe. What a dick I am. I’m sure I’ve a worthwhile point to make somewhere, I just can’t vouch for how well I’ll make it.

Oh well.

Some of the stories didn’t do a thing for me and leaned too much towards B-movie horror. The Mangler in particular made me think of the 1990 film I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle.

I’m sure there are examples to prove me wrong queuing up around the corner, but it seems that when you write a regular suspense story, such as The Ledge, there are so many elements of the suspense, you can’t help but be swept up by it. You’ve got the people and their back stories, their motives, their uncertain depths of malevolence. All of this before the actual task of circumnavigating the building at such a precarious height. With the horror plots, the only surety is that the something’s going to get you. Whether it’s the eponymous Trucks or The Mangler, it doesn’t really matter how or why they are now intent on destroying humans, it just matters that they do and are particularly effective at doing so. There’s not much else to consider and the suspense is built almost purely on the when and where this will happen, and the almost inevitable failure of the protagonist to evade this destruction.

Anyway, the last thing I wanted to do when writing about my reading of King’s works was to start critiquing the master.

My main feeling when reading the book was looking forward to getting onto the next novel. I’m a sucker for stepping into the worlds King creates and, even half way through, Night Shift, I was pining for that immersion and comprehensiveness. I know it’s a bit lazy to admit, but short stories demand much more immediate participation on the part of the reader. Because there isn’t the same level of exposition and so much is left to the reader’s imagination, you actually have to do some work to get the most from the story. The novels, however, do much more of the thinking for you. You can be picked up at the beginning, carried on a long and tumultuous journey, before being dropped off at the end. It’s also possible to go away and come back, picking up where you left of for another instalment of the story, like an episode of a long running serial. I know all of this goes against the reasons I gave for my love of short stories at the beginning, but that’s the reason I’m wondering how true my initial statement is these days. As I’ve said in previous posts, my reading time is limited and often comes at the end of long days of work and family life and a bit of escapism and entertainment is a lot easier to get into than obscure or dense narratives. As I said, lazy!

Perhaps, by the next collection of short stories, I’ll have gotten over this indulgent hang-up and will just be able to enjoy the stories for what they are.

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