Nine Inches – short stories

9781250034700_p0_v2_s260x420Short stories are on my radar – with Alice Munro winning the Nobel for her short stories and Sarah Hall’s story winning the BBC short story award for her tale of a woman turning into a fox ( a story I have yet to find anywhere in print but the BBC reading was enticing).  Tom Perrotta’s Nine Inches on my Kindle was a funny, irreverent collection that had me laughing, crying, musing, and reflecting on my own experiences.  With the same quirky perspective he gave to people in crisis in The Leftovers, Perrotta changes ordinary events into devastating moments.

Each of the ten short stories focuses on a dreary middle-class suburbanite facing inner turmoil for an irretrievable life mistake, and emerging changed through events that could happen anywhere to anyone.  The only problem – each story has a depressing, nevertheless realistic, ending.  After reading the first six, I stopped.

The title refers to middle school teachers using a piece of nine-inch tape to measure and enforce safe space between students who are slow dancing, with the focus on one teacher who reminisces on his lost chances.  “Senior Season” targets a football player who suffers a head injury that keeps him from playing; “Grade My Teacher” focuses on a teacher obsessed with her online evaluations and ranking; “Kiddie Pool” has a man discovering his wife’s infidelity when he sneaks into his dead neighbor’s garage to use his pump to inflate a pool for his grandchildren; “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” – the most enjoyable of the lot – targets the rivalry between coaches of a Little League game with a talented young girl as the pitcher.

Good stories…well written…maybe I’ll go back to read the rest later.

Dear Life – Stories by Alice Munro

199583703What I’m Reading Now – Alice Munro’s Short Stories

As the lives meander by – in different times and with varied circumstances – the short stories in Alice Munro’s  Dear Life collection each has a piece that connects – with a line that resonates, a character with issues close to home.  Within fourteen different tales, Munro offers some history but more reflection on how individuals cope, survive, hope, dream, find happiness.  At least one will find you – maybe at different times in your life experiences – a decision that altered circumstances, an opportunity ignored, a fateful encounter.

In “Haven,” a 13-year-old girl living with her aunt and uncle while her parents are in Africa, finds her surroundings stifling…

“All this happened in the seventies, though in that town and other small towns like it, the seventies were not as we picture them now. . . . there didn’t seem to be an unusual amount of liberation or defiance in the air.”

But the story, like many of them, ends with a surprise.

 “People were always saying that this town was like a funeral but in fact when there was a real funeral it put on its best show of liveliness.”

In “Train,” a man returning from war jumps off the train before his stop – ignoring the fiancée waiting for him and building a new life where he lands – before he deserts and starts again and again.  His backstory is the clue.   In “Night,” sibling rivalry gets a new twist.  Some characters have physical disabilities, others emotional, but one recurring theme is the unreliability of memory – the self-lies that change the past to fit the  present – creating fiction from the past.

The last four stories are meant to be somewhat autobiographical, and as I approach reading them, I look forward to the personal revelations from this 81-year-old Canadian  storyteller – with the caution that not everything remembered is as it was.