I'm not much of a short story reader. I don't know how best to read them. I don't know how best to think about them, and I don't know how best to blog about them. But I want all of that to change. I'd like to become an experienced, accomplished short story reader. My interest in the short story emerged in 2017 when I accidentally came across Ryan O'Neill's amazing The Weight of a Human Heart (see my review). Since then I've bought quite a number of short story collections- some anthologies, some single author collections. It's time I start actually reading them. Naturally enough then I borrowed Pulse Points from my library, it's not from my shelves.
I quite enjoy reading an actual short story, but I really don't really know how to read a collection of them. I find that I can't read one after the other, they all just become a blur, and my brain becomes confused. I find reading one or two, depending on length, between other reads seems to be a better way to go about it, although I'm hoping I will refine this process as I rack up a few more short story collections.
The fourteen stories contained within Pulse Points really have a global reach, with a range of settings - Australia naturally enough, but also America, England, Paris. I was annoyed initially when I realised that quite a number of them were set in America, noting American vocabulary and terms (one of the largest and noisiest bees in my bonnet) before I noticed the setting. Although of course I loved that Convalescence is set in Paris... and while I delighted at the mention of the string section that plays in the labyrinthine tunnels of Châtelet as I've seen them several times, I wondered why was that story set in Paris, and not in Melbourne?
Oddly enough it was probably the stories set in America that ended up being my favourites! Vox Clamantis - a West Coast road trip to see a dying mother. Coarsegold - the last and longest story which is hard to sum up really - a lesbian couple move to central California and events ensue.
It was the saddest sound I ever heard in my life. There were no words, just him with the pain in his lungs, bellowing out smoke from the grief in there. It seemed to me as if all the world, the redwoods and the cliffs and the ocean and whatever birds were out there, was recoiling from him. (Vox Clamantis)The first, titular story Pulse Points is set in Australia and has such a dichotomous plot, I wasn't sure what to make of it- or what would be coming after it. Many of the stories deal with illness and death- dementia, cancer, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, addiction, domestic violence - but I often found humour in the details.
A sturdy nurse pushed through the door. An acrid puff of shit and vegetables followed her. (Pulse Points)I've seen Jennifer Down speak twice. First at Melbourne Writers Festival when she did an electrifying reading of a short story. I thought I'd recognise it when I got to it. I think it was Dogs, but can't be sure now. Last year I saw her at Sydney Writers Festival and she gave a fabulous talk On How to Disappear, a subject I'd never given any particular thought too. Some of it was similar to this article from The Lifted Brow.
You can listen to a conversation with Jennifer Down talking about Pulse Points on the Readings Podcast.
I'm going to try and have a book of short stories always on the go from now on. We'll see how that goes.