Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Immigrant stories

I've never been a big fan of short stories. Their length makes them hard to do right — develop the characters adequately, tell exactly all that's required for whatever there is of a plot to work. And when they are done right, you're left wanting more.

Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmozgis, is utterly right: charming, poignant, honest. All the stories share the same context.

I found myself wondering how many people would relate to, or at least enjoy, stories of the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience, circa 1980s Toronto. But obviously, this collection has already been widely acclaimed be people other than me. In these stories I recognized little bits of my own past — not strictly "immigrant" and no longer confined or defined by but still, then, firmly within that community, of another Slavic heritage, over the same time period not so far from Toronto. Silly, I know, to be grasping for similarities; but there are insights still into how my family acts and thinks:

My mother noted the size of the house. Maybe three thousand square feet with a big yard. Also, it was fully detached. This was two substantial steps beyond our means. Between our apartment and a fully detached house loomed the intermediate town house and the semidetached house. A fully detached house was the ultimate accomplishment.


I don't know what others will find in these characters' lives. Humour, compassion, suburban reality.

My favourite line:
The sun was neither bright nor hot and the outdoors felt conveniently like the indoors: God's thermostat set to suburban basement.


Stories:
Tapka
The Russian Riviera

Excerpts:
The Second Strongest Man
A New Gravestone for an Old Grave

Dispatch:
Dubbing, Italian-Style

Reviews:
London Review of Books
The National Post

About:
Quill & Quire: profile
The Atlantic Monthly: interview

Reading group guide.

4 comments:

Lizzie said...

So you're not an Alice Munro fan? Wow...seriously? I'm sad; she's one of my very favorites, short story or not.

patricia said...

So glad you enjoyed this collection of stories! It's one of my favourites. Beautiful, delicate writing. I can't remember....did you go and see him talk yet at that literary festival?

I did not know you were not a big fan of short stories! Hmmmm.... we will have to work on changing your mind! There is so much out there (I think) that is so very, very good. When short stories are done right, it's like those fleeting moments of utter bliss we all experience. A gifted writer can say so much with so little. That is the beauty of the short story.

Have you tried ZZ Packer's 'Drinking Coffee Elsewhere'? I think you may enjoy that. And for stories that are dark and biting studies of human frailties, nothing beats the short stories of Roald Dahl. A must, must read!

Now if only I could say all I wanted to say with just a few words!

Isabella said...

Bezmogis was supposed give a reading this weekend, but I just found out he cancelled. Aurgh!

No, not a short story fan. Sure I like Hemingway, Poe, Calvino; one of my all-time favourite stories is Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl. But given a choice, I'd choose longer fiction. The few Munro stories I tried I couldn't get into (did I just admit that on a public blog?).

patricia said...

Oh what a drag about Bezmogis! He's a very intense, intelligent guy, with a great dry sense of humour. Hopefully another time you can see him.

Ok, so Munro's writing doesn't rock your world. But might you be interested in the writer herself? FYI, tonight at 8:00pm on TVO's Person2Person, Paula Todd is interviewing Ms. Munro for a full hour. This is a rare treat because Ms. Munro has never been big on exposing herself to much in the media.