A few well-chosen words
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I recently saw a book called “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.” Ironically, for a book dedicated to brevity, it weighs in at 225 packed pages. But it’s hard to put down.
Those bite-sized stories are like potato chips--you just keep wanting just one more. “Tried not loving you. Didn’t work.”...“Wheelchair, crutches, walker, cane, second grade.”...“Lucky in everything else but love.”...“Birthmother found me through mom’s obituary.”... “Awkward girl takes chances. Fun ensues.”... “42. Just received BA. Now what?”...“Striving for perfection. Will fall short.” How can you stop reading?
And how can you stop wondering, especially if you’re a writer, which six you would use as your defining letter to the world? Writing long is easy. But writing really short and really significant...what would you say?
But here the strange thing. The stories look fascinating in the book, but if you go to the book's web site, you see that people often send in more than one entry. And as soon as you have three or four “six-word memoirs” from someone, it’s, well, a little boring. The first six words that tell your story are compelling but after that it's simply the next six words. It sounds like, “oh, one more thing.” Reading them feels like a good lesson in self-editing. “Good wind. City Island. Sunday sailing.”...”Sunny. Good wind. Sailing is freedom.”.... Okay....
Anyhow, it’s that “boiling down to essence” quality that makes a good short story successful. I just finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest short story collection, “Unaccustomed Earth,” which, like all her work, I enjoyed tremendously. Aside from the deftly drawn and complex characters, I love the peek into the lives of Bengalis who have emigrated to the United States, and all the local details are fun. But the ending of the final story left me stunned and now, several days later, I’m just beginning to be able to pick up another book. Have you read it?