Tobias Wolff is a significant figure in the literary world, but I must confess, a writer I haven’t got round to reading in the past. The other day, though, I was given a copy of his short story ‘The Chain’, taken from a collection called The Night in Question, with the recommendation that I’d like it.
And I did. The opening is dramatic – a man called Gold, who owns a not very successful video shop, sees a vicious dog on a chain (but an excessively long one) lunge after his young daughter, with potentially disastrous consequences. Gold rescues the girl, who is not harmed, but the incident preys on his mind. He confides in a friend who offers to deal with the dog. And after hesitating, Gold accepts the offer.
This sets off a chain of events (‘chain’ has a double significance in this story) which leads to murder. There’s a touch of Strangers on a Train about the first part of the story, but overall the effect is highly distinctive. I enjoyed it, and I will definitely read more Tobias Wolff.
In fact, reading ‘The Chain’ reminded how much I love short stories – even if they don’t fall within the conventional parameters of the crime genre. I have a great many favourites, but possibly the number one in my list is another story which isn’t conventional ‘crime fiction’ and yet deals with a sort of crime. It is Shirley Jackson’s brilliant ‘The Lottery’.
So, I wonder, what is your favourite short story?