Friday, December 28, 2018

Pulitzer Short Story Collections

While I truly enjoy listening to stories being told in person, I am not a huge fan of the short story when it comes to reading. It seems like as soon as I get invested in a story, it ends! So, I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover that several of the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners were collections of short stories; however, I willingly launched into them as I get closer and closer to my goal of reading all the fiction winners from 1948 to 2018!


Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (2000 winner)
A collection of stories about Indians and Bengalis that show contrasts between the Indian and American cultures; some set in America in the Boston area and others set in Calcutta. These had mostly sad endings - an epileptic girl gets kicked out of an apartment complex, the boy's babysitter has a car wreck and he become a latch key kid, the couple separates.

A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (1993 winner)
Fifteen stories told from the perspective of Vietnamese individuals living in Louisiana around New Orleans or Lake Charles. One story was focused on a middle-age man picking his wife's grandfather up from the Houston airport. (I'm familiar with that area, so I found it interesting that I knew he was on Hwy 90 before he even gave the names of towns they were passing through - China, Nome, Liberty). When he arrived at the airport, he realized that the grandfather couldn't remember anyone or anything; however, no one had let them know ahead of time. Another story focused on a man whose beautiful wife was cheating on him. He went to a voodoo man in New Orleans for help because he could no longer "bring fire down from heaven" like when he was a spy in Vietnam. I learned a few things about the Vietnamese - many of them believe in ghosts, they do not tell things directly or bluntly, some assimilated into American culture more quickly than others, and they build shrines in their homes for deceased relatives.

These stories are mostly set in Mexico or Texas (although one was set in Berlin) and are told from different perspectives. Again, there are quite a few unhappy endings (the guy kills himself or the boyfriend dies, etc). This book includes three small volumes of her works collected together with an additional four stories. In the author's forward, she says, "Every story I ever finished and published is here." Some of these were "short novels", which I enjoyed more than the "short stories" which seemed to end before the characters were fully developed.

Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson (1978 winner)
"Twelve rich, provocative stories that explore the borderline between black and white America." Some of these stories had interesting beginnings and I was expecting something to happen, but the story ends without any conflict or interesting developments. For example, in one story a judge reviews all the testimony in a case and I think he's going to find something important, but he just decides "guilty"...just like the defendant said he was. There was quite a bit of inappropriate language in some of the stories.

There was a huge variety of foreign settings in this collection - Paris, France, Belgium, London, Germany; these stories were mostly about Americans visiting or living in these places. Another section contained stories set in Adams, Colorado, or introduced characters who were originally from Adams. I encountered lots of new words while reading these stories [ex: parvenu (a person of obscure origin who has gained wealth, influence, or celebrity), spill (strips of paper to light a fire),desuetude (a state of disuse)]. These stories were a little longer, but they still had some strange or "non-endings."

Fortunately, of the nine Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners I have left to read, there's only one more collection of short stories!

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