Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Other Stories and Other Stories by Ali Smith.

crossposted at Diary of a Goldfish

Occassionally, I get anonymous packages in the post. You may remember Albert, the cactus? He's still going strong, thanks for asking. Anyway, last week's mystery package from my oh-so-secret admirer* contained a book of short stories about sex and death, which is probably a favourite theme for books sent anonymously.

Actually, these stories were more about love and death.
We believed in the superiority of feeling, and we believed there had to be some superiority in everything we felt since we felt it so strongly in the face of such taken-for-granted shame.
I don't generally like short stories, particularly ones that clever people describe as postmodern (I actually saw Ali Smith described as Late Postmodern, which made me titter).

Short stories frustrate me because usually you're not given enough of characters to get really invested in them - and if you do, by the time you do, the story is over. Plus there are only so many things you can do with a few thousand words. Horror and ghost stories work best in this format because although the same sort of thing happens every time, the emotional response is so strong you don't really care. How many times have you read the one where Peter encounters Paul, who gives him the willies, and later Peter learns that Paul is a ghost? I've got shivers down my spine thinking about it (really I have; powers of imagination being much better than powers of description).

Postmodern short stories frustrate me even more because they break so many rules that they're often not even stories in a proper sense; they often lack a beginning, a middle and an end. They are mere vignettes and as such, well, they are just so much wallpaper.

The fact that Ali Smith dispels all these prejudices is just one way in which I find her writing a terrific relief. She writes about women the way that I know women, real women, women as human beings as opposed to heroines, or creatures preoccupied by shoes and scales and men. She writes very movingly about the love between women, not just sexual love which she handles beautifully, but every flavour of affection, of friendship, sympathy and kindness between women.

Every story in the book features something about death or loss of one sort of another, but not one manages to be even slightly morbid. Okay, one does, a bit. But mostly the darkness is woven into its rightful place as part of life's rich tapestry.
I can still see our heads together, our eyes and our mouths, intent and pretty and serious as stoats, as we thought things as innocent and perilous as, for instance, that suicide must be a good thing, at the very least a truly romantic thing, something all truly romantic people would do, since people so clearly felt so much when they did it.
Smith plays with grammar from time to time, but she takes it in hand rather than murdering it with a pitchfork and dancing on its grave. She moves fluently between tenses and grammatical persons, often within the same narrative. And there is no fluff; Smith is supposedly literary, but this was a doddle of a read. Her writing is as digestible as it is delicious, which is a rare thing indeed.

Get the impression I generally liked this book? I did. Generally.


* Concerned readers may need to know that through a pain-staking process of ellimination (I'm sure someone mentioned Ali Smith to me recently - it'll probably be them), I did eventually work out who had sent the book. Coincidentally, the same person who had sent the cactus.

3 Comments:

Blogger marmiteboy said...

Goldfish,

This sounds like an interesting read and one I might seek out, though like you I'm not a great one for the short story. I liked some of Alexi Sayle's 'Barcelona Plates' for example, especialy the opening story of the same name and some Raymond Carver is very good indeed. However, like you I like to immerse myself in a story and the trouble with a short is that it is over before you have had the chance to do any immersing.

Post Modernist!! What the hell is that. I have a better name for it. 'Art Wank'.

7:55 AM  
Blogger dte said...

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take Runescape Gold, but by the moments that take our breath away rs gold. I have a simple philosophy: Fill what's empty Runescape Gold.

5:50 AM  
Blogger dte said...

Life is like a hot bath. It feels good while you're in it, but the longer you stay in, the more wrinkled you get rs gold, Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So, love the people who treat you right and forget about the ones who do not Runescape Gold, In the Orient young bulls are tested for the fight arena in a certain manner rs gold. Each is brought to the ring and allowed to attack a picador who pricks them with a lance

5:52 AM  

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