A Few of Jean Thompson’s Favorite Things

Jean Thompson’s last short story collection, Who Do You Love, was nominated for the National Book Award, so readers are understandably excited at the news of a new collection with a dozen of her latest stories, the trade paperback original Throw Like a Girl. I asked Thompson to talk about her own favorite short story, but she didn’t want to pin it down to just one!

jean-thompson.jpgThere are some story writers to whom I’ve granted Hall of Fame status, that is, their place in my list of favorites is so automatic and assured, I exempt them from any further competition. So Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, and Raymond Carver aren’t listed below. But you should go read them. All of them.

Here’s a handful of stories that I love, in no particular order. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of them address the art of writing itself.

1. Alice Munro, “Meneseteung”: This is another author who might well be placed in my Hall of Fame, but I can’t resist including this great story, which explores the act of imagining, as well as the dark side of writing. When Munro’s 19th-century poetess seeks to contain all of creation in a single poem, the result is madness. And although we are reminded at every turn that this is a story, an invention, the effect is heartbreaking.

2. Peter Taylor, “The Old Forest”: Taylor’s detailed evocation of 1937 Memphis might seem quaint to us, until we realize that our own time and place can be analyzed in just such a way, with an eye towards its mores and its written and unwritten codes. Somehow, a single moment in this long, carefully wrought story manages to put all of civilization at risk. Either life will continue as it always has for the narrator and his world, or else the looming chaos (and freedom) of the old forest will prevail.

3. E.L. Doctorow, “The Writer In The Family”: Somewhere out there is a group of my former students who remember the day that the teacher cried. I tried to read this one aloud to them. Big mistake. This ending will ambush and break your heart.

4. Gilbert Sorrentino, “The Moon In Its Flight”: The writer as detached artist, as contriver of characters and events, as self-conscious narrator—a pose that is continually at risk of being overwhelmed by the emotions of lost love.

5. Joyce Carol Oates, “Three Girls”: I love this beautiful, memoir-like story (with a nod to another Oates favorite, the classic “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”). Clear-eyed, wise, tender, a look back at young lives (including that of Marilyn Monroe), with the heavy foreknowledge of the future held, for just a moment, at bay.

5 July 2007 | selling shorts |