Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr

I've been thinking lately about what makes a story stay with me. I read quite a few stories that I enjoy momentarily, but quickly forget. I don't love every story in Doerr's collection, but a number of them --"The Hunter's Wife," "The Shell Collector" (which is the story that led me to read the rest) and "Mkondo" are lingering stories. While these stories clearly demonstrate something is at stake (that old workshop workhorse) for the main characters, they don't insist on solving or even fully idenitifying the problems at hand. Characters are hurt, upset, sometimes emotionally devastated, but they never articulate their thoughts on those problems to the reader nor do they think through their solutions/options. The narration never goes deeply into their heads, but instead stays close to the action. Instead imagery--particularly nature imagery--is used to represent emotional states--and it is those images, as well as a sense of disquiet--that lingers.

I've been feeling lately like I've been urging my students to over-simplify. Usually this is because they're so so abstract. But in fighting abstraction, perhaps I've gone to far in favor of absolute clarity. Perhaps my emphasis should not be on specifics in point of view (what is everybody thinking), but more in specifics in image (what is everybody sensing).