After listening to Lauren Groff read her short story “Dogs Go Wolf” in the New Yorker about two little girls, ages four and seven, left behind on a deserted island, I thought about why I preferred novels to short stories. In Groff’s voice, the little girls came alive, their trials of fear and hunger seemed more acute than if I had read about it. Their misery continues through a half hour – or six pages in the New Yorker – getting more and more horrible, until they eventually fall into a stupor – “two little girls made of air.” To distract from the horror, Groff inserts a promise of their future – one becoming a lawyer, the other married – before returning to the blazing sun and the little wolves they’ve become. By the end of the story, they are rescued, but the gap in their lives seems hollow in the short description of the incident on the island that made them whoever they became. Perhaps Groff will write more in a novel. I’d like to know more about these brave souls.
Short stories offer a quick glimpse into a moment of the characters’ lives. Edith Pearlman and Jane Gardam have successfully navigated the difficulty of the short – both offering soundbites worth remembering. I am looking forward to reading Penelope Lively’s collection in “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.” When I write, I prefer the short story, as difficult as it may be to condense, to spending years with the characters of a novel – but maybe that will change.
For now, the short story is a quick diversion, and when well-written, has a lot to offer, but I still prefer immersing myself in the novel. Claire Messud’s two little girls in “The Burning Girl” have me mesmerized right now, and I am glad to have them with me for longer than a short.
Do you have a preference? short story or novel?
To hear Groff’s story – listen to the podcast here
Reviews of Other Books by Groff: