To celebrate the release of her new short story collection, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, Margaret Drabble will discuss this question and others with Helen Simpson in London on May 26th*.
Questions will include: what can short stories achieve that novels can’t? Why does the publishing industry deem it difficult to sell collections of short stories? Will new technology and decreasing attention spans enable the short story form to flourish in the future?
Today let’s answer the first and most important question: ‘What can short stories achieve that novels can’t?’
In ten minutes, a short story can stop you dead in your tracks, deliver a punch to the gut that you will never forget, and yet its ending can leave you feeling okay – hopeful even – about the future.
Have you read Tillie Olson’s ‘As I Stand Here Ironing’ recently? If not, you should. Whether you are a mother or not, it will rip your heart open. It makes me want to go and find my kids, now 14 and 18, and hug them and tell them how much I love them. It reminds me of the years when they were small and loved me with an unwavering intensity. How lucky I was to have my experience and not Tillie Olson’s! The story is about everything Olson, a single mother in the Depression, was unable to do for her first-born child, a daughter called Emily. Here’s an excerpt:
“She always had a reason why we should stay home. Momma, you look sick. Momma, I feel sick. Momma, the teachers aren’t there today, they’re sick. Momma, we can’t go, there was a fire there last night. Momma, it’s a holiday today, no school, they told me.
“But never a direct protest, never rebellion. I think of our others in their three–, four-year-oldness – the explosions, the tempers, the denunciations, the demands – and I feel suddenly ill. I put the iron down. What in me demanded that goodness in her? And what was the cost, the cost to her of such goodness?”
Much of the story is grueling, like this excerpt, and yet the ending is strangely comforting.
To buy Tillie Olson’s book, Tell Me A Riddle, © Dell Publishing 1956 CLICK HERE.