It’s funny that the short story form really seems to divide fiction readers. And yet Alice Munro and Grace Paley – two doyennes of the short story – express more in a short story than many a novelist could ever hope to do. I do see that you can get lost in a novel in a way that you can’t in a short story. A novel is a sprawl and a stretch whereas a short story reads as if one is standing on toes: alert and slightly precarious.
Michele Roberts writes some of the most wonderful stories and her recent collection MUD: Stories of Sex and Love (Virago) lives up to my expectations of this great, evocative, sexy writer. Perhaps it is because Michele is a poet, a pointillist word painter, that the form so suits her. How much you can tell about one of her characters just from this description of her shoes:
`Every morning I laced up my shoes; flat black suede brogues, with a thick dimpled rubber sole, a pointed triangular toe, just two eyelets, and a black lace thin as a string of liquorice that I tied into a sharp bow.’
In MUD, in a few deft phrases, she speaks volumes about the sharp, exquisite pain of love and loss. She is especially good on sex (unusually good) and I wonder if that is because she understands the constraint of the form, that less is more, that the best erotic prose – as with sexual allure – leaves most up to the reader’s imagination. Indeed a great strength of Michele’s writing is that she involves the reader – teasing us, playing with us, inviting us in. She is an exhilarating writer, absolutely at home on the high wire of the short story.
Lennie Goodings, Publisher, Virago
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