Saturday 23 January 2010

Short Stories and Tobias Wolff

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?


Anonymous said...

Martin - There are a number of crime/mystery short stories that I really enjoy, so I would be hard-put to name just one. One of the cleverest, though, in my opinion is Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter. Such a terrific use of a murder weapon in that one..

Martin Edwards said...

I agree. It's one of the all-time classics, isn't it?

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Peter Lovesey is such a brilliant short story writer that it can be hard to name just one favorite, but a good candidate, I think, would be "The Crime of Miss Oyster Brown."

Ann Elle Altman said...

Sadly, only this year did I really take up reading short stories. I must find this SS the chain. The 'stranger on a train' plot has always interested me. One of my future novels has it as a sub plot.


Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, you are spot on, it is a tough choice, but among Peter's many fine stories, I might go fo the highly original 'Youdunnit'.

seana graham said...

I have to confess that I haven't read all that many mystery short stories. Which is odd because when I was a kid we read them all the time--Alfred Hitchcock had a collection that I really enjoyed, though I couldn't tell you now what any of them were. They were packaged for kids but I don't think they were dumbed down. I remember puzzling over the concept of a 'solicitor', which I think was part of solution somehow. As you know, the American legal system doesn't use them...Actually, the difference between the two systems might have been part of the mystery, come to think of it.

Paul Beech said...


A favourite Lovesey of mine is ‘Window of Opportunity’, in which he gives the hackneyed old business phrase an hilarious twist! I also greatly admire Peter Robinson’s shorts, one favourite being ‘The Magic of Your Touch’ with its surreal atmosphere and supernatural undertone.

Maybe some day you’d like to put together an anthology of shorts nominated by your blog followers. Now that would be an interesting collaboration, wouldn’t it?!

See you at Ormskirk next week.



Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Seana.
Paul, look forward to seeing you again.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Simon Brett, of course, offers a lot of possibilities as well, in collections such as _Tickled to Death_ and _A Box of Tricks_. On these shores, it's Walter Satterthwait, with stories such as "Murder One" (with a Neanderthal detective) and "The Cassoulet" that can be found in the collection _The Mankiller of Poojegai and Other Stories_.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love Tobias and his brother, Geoffrey. Once saw both of them at a book chat.
My favorite short stories include: Cheever's "The Enormous Radio", Updike's "Giving Blood," almost any story from Andre Dubus, "Uncle" Daniel Woodrell; "The Things They Carried" Tim O'Brien. I could go on forever.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, I really should have mentioned Simon already. A Box of Tricks includes some great stories.

Martin Edwards said...

Patti, I have to confess I haven't read any of the stories you mention, but will make a note!