I've tried and tried to get myself more comfortable with short stories as opposed to novels and non-fiction works but it just doesn't come easy for me. For whatever reason, I enjoy long books, long movies and long songs more than I do their shorter versions. I absolutely hate reading or listening to abridged books and honestly believe them to be an abomination. When I start watching a seasonal DVD collection of one of my favorite TV series there is nothing I enjoy more than binging on them over a single weekend if I can find the that kind of time.
But I know that I'm shortchanging (pun intended) myself when it comes to my reading of short stories. So I'm hoping to read more individual stories in 2008 and to at least double the number of short story collections that I read last year, three.
I'm reading Mathias Freese's short story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea, right now, in fact, and one of my favorites from the collection, so far, is a story called "Nicholas."
Nicholas is not a good student, something that does not particularly concern him one way or the other because he believes that he pretty much has real life figured out already. The way he sees it, going to school is like doing "hard time" and is for suckers, not for him. He believes that having a purpose in life is more important than learning to read well or memorizing a bunch of meaningless facts that he will never use again. He may be in a "slow class" but he knows that he is no slow learner because he already knows what is important and what is not.
As Nicholas puts it,"Whose the bigger jerk, the teacher who gets paid peanuts or the electrishan who makes $15 or $20 an hour without colledge?" His parents don't read books because they get everything they can possibly need from TV or newspapers. He has a purpose in life, knows where he wants to go, and that's more than he can say for any of the burned out teachers in his life.
Sad as it is, "Nicholas" offers insight into the struggle that schoolteachers face every day of their careers. Nicholas is certain that he is right about the meaninglessness of school to a kid like him and no one in his life will ever convince him otherwise. He is just putting in his "hard time" until his sentence is over.
Mathias Freese has some twenty-five years experience as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist and it shows in this short story collection. I'm enjoying the way that he gets inside the minds of his unusual characters and I plan to review the whole collection in the next few days.