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The Art of the Short Story

According to Amazon, I purchased this book, The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn, back in July 2018. Hmm, that was the summer that we had no air conditioning at the house for all of June, and I spent the afternoons at the local university library writing a bad draft of a bad novel. So I recognized my need for education even then but did not have a plan for the book. I read a few of the stories when I needed one for my nightly reading but skipped the longer ones. And hardly ever read the authors’ insights. 

So when deciding this was the year of the short story, I pulled out several previously ignored books on the craft, including this one. This year, I have a plan for the book. There are 52 stories and 52 authors. So I will focus each week on the story and author of the week. I won’t skip. 

Something I didn’t realize, but both of the authors of this anthology are published poets. Not what I was expecting. They have both edited fiction anthologies and criticisms and translated the work of others, but their primary creative product is poetry collections. 

After a month of daily reading and reviewing short stories, having the luxury of a week to read and digest a story feels almost decadent. But then I started reading this week’s story, and I need the whole week just to understand the physical action of the story. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have only been on a few boats in my life, mostly ferries, Disney rides, and a ski boat here and there. I admit I prefer the ocean, and water in general, from a soft sandy beach. Water should not feel hard, and yet in my boating experiences, it does.

Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer is a tale about life on a sailing ship. A new commander brings aboard a man that leaped from his ship after being accused of murder. The narrator feels an unusual kinship with the man, be it from shared past experiences or just both being strangers on this new ship. 

This story is a challenging read for me, as I am not familiar with quarter decks, cuddies, and poop decks. The environment that Conrad was so experienced with caused me to fall out of the story as I wondered what each new word or situation was. I think that makes some of the “old classics” so hard to read for contemporary readers. Our idea of ships is a Carnival Cruise. I once got to visit a replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria and was surprised at the small stature of this ship that was one of the earliest to cross the Atlantic. When I read this story, I probably imagined the Sephora and the commander’s ship to be large and imposing, but they were perhaps not a whole lot bigger than the Santa Maria.

I did not understand the narrator’s desire to protect the alleged murderer. To me, he was putting his own men in danger because he, for some reason, identified with the man who jumped from his ship after admittedly murdering a man who reported to him. Not someone I would welcome to my place of work.

I have missed reading the Art of the Short Story and am so glad to be back on my regular posting schedule.