Friday, December 19, 2003


The short story format is not for me. I don't particularly like to write short stories--although I'd be a better writer if I did it more often--and I don't really like to read them. When I sit down to read, I want to read for a good long time. With a collection of short stories, I have to stop after twenty minutes because I've come to the end of a story. If I keep reading and finish four or five of them, I just get a bunch of ideas knocking against each other and everything ends up murky and muddled and not at all rewarding. So, the only time I read short stories is in the car when I'm waiting for the wife to show up. She's usually late, so I can usually get in a good 15 or 20 minutes of reading, usually enough to finish one story, but not enough time to read two.

This week's car companion was Sheila Kohler's Stories from Another World. Her writing has a nice flow, I think, and she does a good job of evoking the atmosphere of difference and distance that envelopes your life when you're living somewhere other than your native country. I think her imagination--or maybe her life experiences--are darker than mine. Her stories aren't quite brutal, they're too whispery and secretive for that, but she does seem so focused on betrayal and violence. I think I'm supposed to be shocked by the disasters brought about by adultery (her favorite subject) and desire, but mostly I find myself squinting at the page, wondering where these people all live because they don't much resemble anyone I know.

Sometimes I find literature about South Africa to be completely opaque. I read it, and have a feeling that there's something there I'm just not getting, some nuance or suggestion that I can't detect because I'm not familiar enough with the history or culture. I'm freshly reminded of everything I don't know about the world. I do have a basic knowledge of the imperialist timeline in Africa, but my history education stops right there. We're so far removed, sitting here in the U.S., looking eastward (Why not westward? Why can't I look west from Washington and see Africa? Why do I still instinctively look to the east?) that South Africa looks like a story of black and white. Well, black v. white. But whenever I pick up something about the place, I have to re-remind myself that white isn't necessarily white, for one, that British isn't Dutch isn't German, and it matters. And black isn't black, of course. It's just an optical illusion, looking at it from so far away.

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