Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not So Perfect

When it comes to reputation and popularity, modern day short story writers seem to get the short end of the stick. Novels are more popular than shorter works; there is no doubt about that. Readers seem to prefer immersing themselves in complicated, detailed plots housed in 500 pages novels over experiencing spare short stories of a dozen pages or so. I tend to be that way myself, despite the fact that I have come to believe that it might be more difficult to write a quality short story than it is to write a longer work. Nik Perring's Not So Perfect has pretty much convinced me that I am correct about that opinion. It must really be hard to make it look this easy.

Not So Perfect is Perring's collection of 22 short stories, several of which have been previously published in British (I think) literary magazines. The collection gives new definition to short story because these little tales are best characterized as short short stories. These are stories of a few hundred words and just three or four pages, on average, but do not let their brevity fool you because each of the stories packs a little kick of its own. Perring has such an uncanny ability to create believable characters and unusual situations in very few words that I found myself always looking forward to the next story to see if he could pull it off again. He did.

None of Perring's characters are perfect, and what we see of their lives is not even close to being perfect, but they are interesting and fun to get to know. Among my favorite stories is one about a library patron that comes to the disapproving notice of the librarian who suspects he is up to no good. There is one about a young woman's obsessive use of Post-It notes, another about two birdwatchers that come out only at night, and one about a woman who literally vomits small animals. There may be no perfect characters and no perfect lives in Perring's stories but I defy the reader to forget them.

Not So Perfect is fun and I will long remember it because of a unique experience I had while reading it. I always keep a book in my car, just for those little unexpected delays that so often happen during my daily commute or when I have to queue up someplace for a few minutes of what would, otherwise, be wasted time. Not So Perfect rode along in my passenger seat for several days and, while waiting for an exceptionally long traffic light to turn green in my direction (a wait of almost three minutes), I was able to read an entire short (short) story on the way to work. How cool is that?

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. Any story that can be read during a traffic light deserves to be read! Thank you for having the courage to stand up for short stories.

    While reading some short stories by by David Foster Wallace (Oblivion), I rose from my McDonald's booth, exclaimed, "Genius is when you write something so dense it would sink in a pool of steel," and tossed the book into the trash.

    Other than that, I'd suggest Raymond Carver as a great starting point for modern short stories.

  2. Sounds like David Foster Wallace short stories are best avoided, Sean...Carver, on the other hand, is a master of the genre.