Archive for June 9, 2010

The Short Story & American Salvage

When I was 18, right around the time that I discovered contemporary American poetry, I fell in love with the short story.  I had always been a reader, but up until the time I went to college, I read mostly popular fiction (horror, especially Stephen King) and of course, all the teen lit one person could get a hold of.  At college, my professors introduced me to the contemporary American short story, and I entered the worlds of Raymond Carver, Sharon Dilworth, Barry Hannah, and Donald Barthelme (yes — I know all these writers are very different, but I had a lot of very different college professors).  Later, in my 20’s when I was jumping from job to job, in and out of grad school classes, etc.  I fell in love with the work of Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson.  Then came Lorrie Moore and Melanie Rae Thon.  And then, oddly, (and rather suddenly, I think), I stopped reading short stories.

Why? Perhaps it was because my favorite short story writers went on to write novels.  Or maybe it was because I found a nice steady and stable job, and had more time to read so my attention turned to novels.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that my shelves of short story collections got boxed away.  When I moved, and had extra space, I found room for them once again.  And then, just recently, I purchased a collection that will win me back to the short story genre.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell  captures the lives of working class/small town people who live in rural Michigan.  In many ways, I think of her stories as a masterful combination of Sharon Dilworth and Raymond Carver.   Capturing both the violence and poverty of her characters’ everyday lives, the author shows how these people live in what most of us would consider bleak and hopeless conditions.  Yet, the characters never come across as mere stereotypes — just painfully real. This little blurb, of course, is not a formal review of this wonderful collection.  Jay Robinson, on his blog, did a wonderful job describing this great read.  Take a look here.  Then, find and read this book.  And finally, if you are a short story reader (and/or writer), please drop me a note to introduce other great collections I am missing.