Sunday, June 24, 2018

Caroline Taylor's collection "Enough"



When I began this blog almost ten years ago (My, my! Has it really been that long?), I announced that my intention was to discuss the characteristics of the short story as a literary genre, even though many of my colleagues have always insisted that the form has no unique literary characteristics, for “fiction is fiction is fiction” whether it is a short story or a novel, or so I have been told countless times.
Nevertheless, I stubbornly persisted. Over the years, whenever I have discussed individual short stories or collections of short stories, my aim has not been to write “reviews”-- although I have written many newspaper and periodical reviews during my career—but to use  individual stories and collections as a basis for discussing general issues about the short story form.
However, occasionally, I get requests from publicists to write a “review” of a new collection of stories.  I never turn these requests down, for, as I said in my first blog almost ten years ago, I am, if nothing else, a “cheerleader” for the short story and am always happy to encourage both writers and scholar/critics who have an interest in the form.
I recently got a request from the publicist for JKS Communications in Nashville, to “review” a new collection by a writer named Caroline Taylor, who I had never heard of before. The collection is entitled Enough, which is also the title of the opening story, and subtitled Thirty Stories of Fielding Life’s Little Curve Balls.  Ms. Taylor is the author of three mystery novels and numerous short stories in various online and small press venues—many of which are reprinted here.
Ms. Taylor did not purposely write thirty stories on the theme of “fielding life’s curve balls”; in a public relations interview, she said that without intending to, she just seems to have written a number of stories about “people confronting the unexpected and the unwelcome,” adding that she selected those stories that “best reflect the myriad ways people handle life’s life surprises.”
This might very well be a description of a great number of short stories I have read during my career as a teacher and critic. The short form is one that lends itself to “unexpected” and often “unwelcome” “surprises.” The issue that concerns me as a reader and critic of short stories is how mysterious are those surprises and how complex are the means by which human beings react to and deal with them.
I read all thirty stories in Enough, and then, as is usual for me, I went back and read them all again.  However, I don’t think that most readers will read them more than once, for truth to tell, they do not require reading more than once—as stories by great short story writers, such as Alice Munro and William Trevor—most always do.
But then, all short stories do not have to be stylistically complex or metaphorically mysterious, do they?  Although these are not the kind of stories I usually taught in the classroom or have written extended analyses of, I did enjoy reading them. They seem to me to be “entertaining” stories--brief enough to read rather quickly and straightforward enough to  grasp without a great deal of soul-searching thought.  This is the perfect collection of stories to take to the beach or on vacation.  You can read one of these stories while filling up your gas tank and not be distracted by it while driving on down the Interstate.  These are stories that may make you smile wryly and nod your head knowingly.  They are the kind of stories that filled Saturday Evening Post and Colliers many years ago when short stories were the entertainments that television took over for later on and made couch potatoes out of us all.
These stories are not brilliant, but they are intelligent.  They are not poetically precise, but they are well written.  They are not psychologically complex, but they are psychologically perceptive. I liked reading them. I just would not feel the need to “study” them. But then only guys like me always feel the need to “study” stories.
I will summarize and comment on only one story to give you an idea of what they are like.  “Maude’s Makeover” begins with the first-person voice of the titular character saying, “Life would be so much easier if I were a cartoon character.”  She hurriedly amends her statement by saying she does not mean a cartoon character like a hapless rabbit flattened by a falling piano, but rather a woman from a graphic romance novel—with “shoulder-length golden hair, huge tits, a narrow waist, and long, curvy legs.”  But alas, she says, her name is not Paris or Angelina, but Maude—with all the homeliness that the name suggests.
So Maude decides to go to the beauty parlor and get a make-over to try to be like the kind of cartoon character she aspires to, telling the credulous receptionist at the salon that she is one of the finalists in the “Miss Eighteen Wheeler” contest at the National Long-Haulers Association convention.
The National Long Haulers get wind of this and apologize for leaving her name off the list of contestants, and, as you might expect, Maude wins the contest and goes down to the courthouse to get her name changed.
The story is a lot more fun to read than my summary can give it credit for, for Miss Taylor adopts the voice of Maude quite convincingly.  And not all the stories are this flippant and facile.  But they are all entertaining and clever. Once you accept them as this type of story, you can just give yourself over to them while lying on the beach before putting on your sun screen and taking a nap with a smile on your face.

2 comments:

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