Short Stories for Men
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
I just read three different short story collections that would work for a book discussion or two plus could attract male authors with their subject matter.
First off is one of my perennial favorite novelists, Thomas H. Cook. His short story collection Fatherhood and Other Stories (2013) contains 11 stories, most of which deal with themes based on the title of the book. Two strong things run through the stories: crime and responsibility. There are no happy outcomes in most of the stories which should make discussing them rather easy. The characters are challenging and on occasion, disappointing in their behaviors. The best story in the book is “What Eddie Saw” in which the sins of the father are visited upon the son. Another real winner is “Rain” which has an odd but pleasing structure and is essentially a big “pass it on” story.
Legend of a Suicide by David Vann (2008) is the same note played over and over. In the Acknowledgements, the author explains why: “Finally, I must thank my family, because it was an uncomfortable topic I was writing about—my father’s suicide—and there’s exposure in these stories.” There is also an incredible amount of talent as well. Eerily, the same tidbits keep appearing throughout the collection, making the reader feel as if the characters are familiar. The name Roy is used over and over for the affected character of the son yet each circumstance in each story is a different spin on the relationships. One of Vann’s strength is incorporating a strong sense of place in a limited amount of time with Alaska being the main resting point. The reality is that Vann is very dexterous in making each story unique and fulfilling despite one central theme: the sins of the father are visited upon the son. Every story in this collection raises multiple issues that could form that basis of a successful discussion. The most powerful and painful work to read is the novella “Sukkwan Island” which splits its two parts into the descent of the son followed by the descent of the father. (This collection also won the 2007 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction).
What more powerful legacy of the sins of the father being visited upon the son are the remnants of war? In The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim (2013) the stories are so painful to read that a reader feels almost compelled to set the book down before reading another. Each tells the tale of the nation of Iraq in disarray with conflicting entities within that are unable to define any kind of normality thus making each day another theater of the absurd performance. There is a sense of magical realism to many of the stories except the magic is all bad. Leadership fails, religion fails and common sense is missing. The younger generation looks for some guidance from somewhere but often ends up in total survival mode. While this book would be a very disturbing title for any group to read (warning: some parts are very graphic in their description of the violence being inflicted on individuals in the country of Iraq) it would also benefit any reader to contemplate the definitions of rational behavior within the definition of a modern nation in the world. It should come as no surprise after reading this collection to find that Blasim lives in Finland and his writing has been banned in many Arab nations. Every story in this collection is a winner and I would suggest the entire work be discussed if you feel your group is up to it.