Monday, January 07, 2008

Short Story Monday - Nicholas

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.

16 comments:

  1. That sounds like a very interesting story! Is the collection set in the US, or Britain?

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  2. I'm with you on the short stories. I have to force myself to read them. For some reason, I prefer novels, and long ones at that.

    I think this preference has to do with personality. For instance, I prefer hanging out with old friends instead of finding new ones. I'm all about commitment - I hate fast friendships and casual relationships. I think this is why I prefer delving into a book and spending some time with the characters as opposed to the "fast friendships" offered in short stories.

    What do you think? Does the preference have anything to do with your personality? Or do you think most people prefer novels over short stories? Hmm...you've really made me think...

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  3. I'm much like you, and like Susan, short stories are not my thing, but...as a teenager I loved reading Saki's stories, and now I do have a go at reading them from time to time. Some years ago I read Helen Simpson's first collection 'Four Bare Legs in a Bed' and enjoyed the stories so much I have bought her three following books of stories, the latest of which is 'Constitutional'. All very well worth reading. In fact the story whose title was used for her second book 'Dear George' made my daughter and I laugh and cringe so much that I think it should be on the school curriculum. We all have different ways of reading, and I tend to read short stories on the bus on the way to and from court. They are the perfect length for my journey. Matthias Freese is now on my 'must read' list.

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  4. I always thought it was because I am so nosy - I want to know how it all turns out and short stories are just too - short.

    It appears that Nicholas is exactly right. School is a waste of time for him. "Reading Matters" made the case that the bar keeps being raised when it comes to edumacation. (sorry! he's contagious.) Where do we stop wasting resources on students who don't want to learn and start funneling them to those that do? And would that end up being a class decision? (social not student.)

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  5. I'm a fan of the short story, but I don't think I could say I prefer it over the novel. They're probably on equal footing with me. Though, like poetry, I think the more people try them, they more they'll end up enjoying the form.

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  6. Off topic but I wanted to let you know that I've just finished Consolation, you reviewed it earlier http://bookchase.blogspot.com/2007/10/consolation.html and I really enjoyed it and am now passing it along to my husband.
    It had an added bonus living just down the road from Toronto.

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  7. Eva, the collection is set in the U.S. It's different in lots of ways from the short stories I usually read. I've finished it now and I need to pull my thoughts together for a coherent review if I can.

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  8. Susan, you may be on to something with your "personality theory." I know that in my case my tendency not to read short stories fits into a definite pattern that might be called "personality." I do wonder how many people really love short stories or if they are secondary reading for people more times than not.

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  9. Herschelian, that's a great point. Short stories are perfect commute-reading and that might partially explain why I don't often get around to reading them...driving to work, I lose the advantage of being able to lose myself in reading while using public transportation. I did a lot of reading on London's metro system, but since returning to the States that's some reading time I no longer have.

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  10. Carrie, I'm sort of that way, too...I want all the meat from the bone and short stories sometimes frustrate me by ending just when I get into the rhythm of the story.

    Your theory on schooling is interesting...have to think about that one.

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  11. Dear Sam
    As i wait your final review of Down to a Sunless Sea, I am intrigued by the comments: --1) i learned how to write with short stories, a world is incisively created within 2500 words; 2) Hemingway will be remembered not for his novels but for his short stories;3) Kafka's Metamorphoses is as rich as any 200 page novel;4)one fop recently wrote back that he would not review my book because, in essence, only literature was in novels -- insufferable ( a tin of snuff for him); finally, my novel, The i Tetralogy is a result of my years learning my craft -- see "Unanswerable" in Down to a Sunless Sea, for it comes from the novel. I really enjoy the literary can of worms you have provoked.
    And thank you for discussing "Nicholas," for we are all Nicholas in some part of our lives.
    Matt Freese, 5'6"

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  12. I'm finding that you're right, John...the more I read short stories the more I enjoy them. I think it is getting me used to the idea that they are more like snapshots than anything else and I've learned to appreciate that they don't have time to develop long, complicated plots. I enjoy the character development and the moods invoked in the short number of pages the author allows himself.

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  13. Hi, Elizabeth. I'm really happy to hear that you enjoyed "Consolation." Thanks for letting me know...here's hoping that your husband enjoys it as much as we did.

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  14. Hello, Matt. Thanks for dropping by the blog. I'm making a sincere effort to acclimate myself to the world of the short story and I think I'm making progress. I appreciate the art involved and have always thought that writing a good short story would be more difficult than writing a good novel because of the limited space allowed in which to work. As I read more and more stories, I am often amazed at what can be packed into five or six pages. Some of the stories will stay with me a long, long time.

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  15. Hi Sam, I actually like short stories a great deal. I recommend something by Alice Munro, Kurt Vonnegut or George Saunders -- they are three of my favorites.

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  16. Thanks for the recommendations, LD/Brownie...much appreciated. I've read none of their short work, so I'll make an effort to do that.

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