Last night Tobias Wolff won The Story Prize for his new collection of short stories, Our Story Begins. It’s basically the equivalent of a Greatest Hits album. During his interview with Larry Dark, he mentioned that he didn’t want this book to be a complete compilation since that might be a bit “too funereal.”
Jhumpa Lahiri was the first to read and she chose the story Hell-Heaven. I had read this story twice before, but hearing her, I noticed several new things, such as the description of the safety pins in the early part of the story, which come into play at the end.
Later, Joe Meno read from his story, Frances the Ghost. I hadn’t read his work before, but the story was funny and heartbreaking and sad and courageous. He said that he wrote it because of a girl he once knew who was braver than all the other neighborhood kids and he modeled Frances after her. Some stories are meant to be read aloud and this is one of them.
For some reason, I predicted that Tobias Wolff would read Bullet in the Brain. I was introduced to this story by a fiction professor in college. The funny thing about it was that when she photocopied the story from the original magazine, she had neglected to copy the last page, not realizing that there had been another page, so we all assumed that the story ended abruptly, in the middle of a sentence. Which made complete sense to us since this guy just got shot in the head.
The next week, one of us had discovered this mistake and after we read the last page, it spurred another discussion on how we had all completely believed in that story before we found out there was another page. It’s that sort of mastery of language that earns the trust of Wolff’s readers.
On the ride home from the award ceremony, it occurred to me that what I love about short story writers is that they notice the small moments. It’s the small things that are drawn out and examined. Ultimately, in the end, I believe that’s what we’ll all remember best.
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