Tuesday, 5 June 2012

My Mother was an Upright Piano

Actually she wasn't. My mother was not an upright piano either literally or metaphorically. But that is the title of Tania Hershman's new collection of very short stories. (I dislike the term 'flash fiction' - I don't really even know if that's what these are.)

This is not, I must admit, typical reading for me, but I like to try something different occasionally and I had very much enjoyed Tania's collection of science-based stories, The White Road (and other stories), so it seemed a good gamble.

 There were two things the stories in this book reminded me of. One was poetry. I don't know if it's intentional, but a lot of these pieces read to me like blank verse. There was the feeling that the words had been very carefully selected, the feeling that each line almost stood alone as a crafted object, rather than having the normal flow of a story, and the feeling that these stories worked best read aloud. Whatever, I had to seriously slow down my reading style, which is normally very quick, getting the jist, almost ignoring anything descriptive. I needed to slow down and appreciate the words.

 The other thing it reminded me of was a story by my favourite fiction writer of all time, Gene Wolfe. Wolfe is a prolific story writer and I buy all his collections, though I have to confess I am much more fond of his novels. But one story has always fascinated me, so much that I included it in the business creativity book Imagination Engineering I wrote with Paul Birch. We finished each chapter with a short piece of fiction, to help the reader think differently, and I was determined to get this story in. It's called My Book and it is, just like the stories in Piano, a very short short where every word in carefully selected and where about 90% of the story is implied rather than explicit. I managed to obtain it at a very reasonable rate, and got a lovely typewritten letter from Gene Wolfe as a result.

 So, for me this is a brilliant collection. And the stories are so short that if you don't like one it doesn't matter - you are already into the next (the difficulty is putting it down). You have to be prepared as the reader to do some work, to fill in that implied 90%. But is that a bad thing? Expect to spend some time staring into space as you do this. You may get some funny looks, but what the heck. Available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and direct from the publisher.

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