Every Wednesday, I feature interesting news, trivia, and anything related to books and reading. Today’s Good To Know Wednesday is an article titled “In Search of Happiness” by The Economist. I hope you enjoy today’s article as much as I did.
SHORT STORIES are due a revival. In recent years, there have been critically acclaimed collections by American writers such as Lydia Davis and Junot Díaz. But few others manage to reach the bestseller lists, and they are all too often overshadowed by novels. In contrast to their heyday in the early 20th century, short stories are mostly viewed as trials or experiments before an author cracks on with the real thing.
John Burnside, a Scottish poet and novelist, challenges this preconception in his latest collection, “Something Like Happy”. Over 13 stories, Mr Burnside shows the versatility of the condensed form. His stories take place mostly in Scotland, in flats “high up on the third floor of a tenement block in the middle of Dundee” or in the back room of a hardware shop, where men drink “sweet, milky coffee” while waiting for the results of the races. His men carry knives or conduct extramarital affairs; his women are often lonely housewives who drink, take up bell-ringing in their local church or fantasise about younger men as a way of filling in time.
As with his poetry, Mr Burnside has a keen eye for detail and for the telling phrase. Pollution from nearby industrial works is “like a fine material” wrapped around the skin of one of his characters. An American exchange student in alien Scotland is “doggedly courteous and, at the same time, utterly remote, like the landing party in an old episode of Star Trek”. A man thinks of his wife in their failing marriage—a frequent Burnside topic—as “like a well-tended suburban garden: a little too tidy”.
Happiness is the subject that ties the collection together. In other hands, this could become sentimental. But Mr Burnside, with only a few exceptions, never allows that to happen. Instead, happiness frequently eludes these figures; so much so that they have almost ceased to believe in it. Rooted in the bleaker aspects of Scotland’s landscapes, it is something that his characters continually search for, in these punchy and poetic tales—yet fail to find.
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That’s all for today, folks!
Keep on readin’