Tag Archives: Short Stories

Book Review: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue (3/5)

11 Jun

I’m not a big fan of short story collections. This was a switch from a novel for my book club that happened last minute because of availability. I don’t think it’s something I would have picked otherwise. I’m writing this review before our group meets. Maybe they’ll change my mind. Though I find it hard to discuss short story collections.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue

Summary from Goodreads:

Emma Donoghue, celebrated author of Slammerskin, vividly animates hidden scraps of the past in this remarkable collection. An engraving of a woman giving birth to rabbits, a plague ballad, theological pamphlets, and an articulated skeleton are ingeniously fleshed out into rollicking tales. Whether she’s spinning the tale of a soldier tricked into marrying a dowdy spinster, or a Victorian surgeon’s attempts to “improve” women, Donoghue fills us with the sights and smells of the period as she summons the ghosts of ordinary people, bringing them to unforgettable life in fiction.

Some of these I enjoyed and others just frustrated me. Donoghue was inspired by odd bits of trivia she found while reading and some of the stories didn’t seem to have a plot, they just served to explain the odd thing Donoghue had read. Dido’s story had real depth to it. ‘Come, Gentle Night’ made no sense until you read the author’s note at the end. I didn’t like the stories where the note made the plot. In those cases, I felt like the note should have been at the beginning or the story should have been longer.

Donoghue drew rather believable people. None had too much of a story that I could sympathize with them or pass much judgment on how believable they were. There were a lot of women who suffered for their gender and the time period they lived in. This felt real to me. I think a lot of her focus is on how women were oppressed and she wanted to share a bit of their stories when history had ignored them.

Emma Donoghue
Image via Goodreads

‘Dido’ was my favorite story. Maybe it’s because of the racism discussions going on in my country, but this felt very relevant despite the setting. It reminded me of a movie I watched 10 years ago, Amazing Grace, about the abolition of the slave trade in England. I thought it was really powerful how Dido recognized her special status and used it to help someone else.

None of the characters was very relatable to me. Many of them were set in a very removed time period and I didn’t get enough to connect with them. The one that was more modern was an immortal witch, so that didn’t help.

None of the stories were disagreeable or I disliked them. Many just didn’t grab my attention and keep me interested for very long. The short story is not a format I enjoy and these seemed shorter than most. They shone a light on very overlooked parts of history and the notes at the end added a lot of depth and research to the stories. They just weren’t for me.

Women were written out of much of history. They’ve resigned themselves to footnotes in obscure texts like those Donoghue used to inspire her for many of these stories. The voices of women aren’t recorded, but logic would have you believe they were important. These women were written off, but they influenced many men and in some cases made a difference. I liked how Donoghue gave voices to the silenced. I think some could have been longer stories.

Writer’s Takeaway: This is not a genre for me and I’ve known that for quite a while. I don’t find short stories often give the reader enough about the subject to connect. Some of these stories felt like fragments of a larger story. Others felt complete. I think the difference was when Donoghue had more context than the reader. She had read some scrap of history that explained the split a little better. Without that context, the reader was lost. I think some of her history notes would have been better off at the beginning of the stories.

Enjoyable in small bursts, but not a genre for me. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (3/5)

31 Mar

I was given this as a gift a long time ago, I believe for Christmas in 2014. The friend who gave it to me did because I’d shared an article I read where the author says that the wallpaper in The Yellow Wallpaper was the most obvious analogy he had ever read. I hadn’t read Gilman’s stories at the time but felt that the title alone made it pretty obvious what was going on. Naturally, she called my ignorance and bought me this copy. And now, five and a half years later, I have the time to get to it. I listened to an audiobook of this collection and then realized my print edition had selected different stories and read the ones that I hadn’t listened to already.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Summary from Goodreads:

Best known for the 1892 title story of this collection, a harrowing tale of a woman’s descent into madness, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote more than 200 other short stories. Seven of her finest are reprinted here.

Written from a feminist perspective, often focusing on the inferior status accorded to women by society, the tales include “turned,” an ironic story with a startling twist, in which a husband seduces and impregnates a naïve servant; “Cottagette,” concerning the romance of a young artist and a man who’s apparently too good to be true; “Mr. Peebles’ Heart,” a liberating tale of a fiftyish shopkeeper whose sister-in-law, a doctor, persuades him to take a solo trip to Europe, with revivifying results; “The Yellow Wallpaper”; and three other outstanding stories.

These charming tales are not only highly readable and full of humor and invention, but also offer ample food for thought about the social, economic, and personal relationship of men and women — and how they might be improved.

There were some similar themes in a lot of these stories. Many focused on a woman’s happiness in marriage and motherhood and about female independence. I have to imagine that for the time they were written, these weren’t very common themes. The complaints that many of the women had and being unfulfilled were the same ones I read about in The Feminine Mystique meaning that more than sixty years later, they were still ongoing. I liked the snort and snappy stories Gilman used to highlight these problems. I think they showed the issues well and gave examples of women who were strong and independent.

It’s hard for me to comment on how credible these characters were since I don’t know very much about women around the turn of the century. I could understand the pain they felt and how they wanted to have a purpose in life aside from being mothers as I think we see that continuing into today’s culture. As far as avoiding marriage, I’m not sure how many women at the time were actively trying to avoid getting married or re-married so these characters may not be representative of the women of the time. However, they were resourceful people and I felt the way they were portrayed was very positive and a good role model for any woman who may have felt the same.

Gilman was clearly ahead of her time as a feminist. Her feminist characters want things that today are common: careers, self-determination, and the choice to marry. These are things I have (had) and can completely understand why someone who doesn’t have them would want them so strongly. I love my job and while I’ve considered having a family and staying home, I don’t think it would be long-term for me; I think I’d eventually return to the workforce in some way. I decided what I would study in school and decided to marry a man I love when I was young even when some people tried to talk me out of it. I enjoy the freedoms that Gilman was speaking about.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Image via the New York Review of Books

I can’t remember the title of the story I liked best but I think it was When I Was a Witch. It was a story about a woman who made wishes and they would come true. She used this power to meter out her form of justice amongst newspaper people who printed lies and people who owned parrots and stray cats. It was a really cute little story about a woman who discovered her own power and made changes in the world to help as many people as she could (as well as those who don’t like parrots). It was a cute and fun story.

The Cottagette appeared in the print and audio editions and I guess that it’s one of the more popular of Gilman’s stories. I wasn’t a big fan of this one, though. Two sisters take a summer cottage to practice their art at a location where meals and housekeeping are provided. One sister convinces the other to add a kitchen and keep house to impress a man who ends up not being impressed by her housekeeping but her art. It was a silly story to me and many of her other stories made much better points so I didn’t like it very much, especially after hearing so many other good stories.

The audiobook was narrated by Kirsten Potter and I enjoyed her narration. She used a good variety of voices for the different characters and her portrayal in The Yellow Wallpaper when the character was going made was great. It started as very innocent and ended up wonderfully creepy. I think I’ve heard her narrate before, she has a long list of works.

This is not radical feminism. In many cases, the women in these stories do get married but they’re doing so on their own terms. It’s a more achievable form of feminism and I think Gilman was doing well to show other women how they could stand up for themselves or have what they wanted in life without doing away with men. I hope that women who read these stories realized that they didn’t have to do away with things in life that would have made them happy or feel fulfilled.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve struggled to write a short story that I feel adequately ways what I want it to say. Reading these helped me understand that maybe I don’t need as much character development or as many plot points as I usually aim to cram in. Many of these stories were pretty simplistic as far as character development and plot and they were perfectly enjoyable. It’s helpful to read other people’s stories to see what I’m missing or putting too much into my own.

Overall, enjoyable but still not my favorite genre tor read. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Yellow Wallpaper
Symbolism, Characterization, and Themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Ms. Brigitte’s Mild Ride
Review: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Diary of a Book Friend
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia

Writers’ Group: Short Stories and Metaphors

25 Feb

I almost skipped my writers’ group meeting, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t feeling great, I worked late, and I thought I needed a break. But I picked myself up and went and I’m so glad I did. And yes, having something to write about here was a part of my motivation. Blogging to stay honest with my writing goals. I counted this meeting as my hour of writing for the week, too. Double dipping?

We first talked about the differences between short stories and novels. Short stories are sometimes seen as a warm-up for a novel when they’re very different writing formats and success in one may not mean success in the other. Novels have a lot more room to explore a character or story. A novel is not a collection of short stories and a good short story should not read like part of a novel. Novels utilize the familiar three-act structure while a short story only has room for the third act. In a novel, the subplots often make the book enjoyable and added exciting depth. In a short story, they muddy the message so it’s recommended you have one or none. While a short story may not have the real estate to be deep, that doesn’t mean it lacks meaning. A short story can be very impactful and have a lot of meaning though it is often more implied than a novel on a similar topic may leave it. A short story is usually confined to one location while the majority of novels utilize many settings to tell their story.

The second focus was on metaphors. Metaphors are a great way to emphasize an important concept or object. While often done, not all metaphors are well done and writing a good one can be a big challenge. There are two parts to a metaphor, the tenor and the vehicle. To give an example, in Shakespeare’s famous metaphor “All the world’s a stage,” the tenor is world, the subject of the metaphor, and stage is the vehicle, the comparison. Metaphors are most impactful when they are simple, thematic, original, relevant, and important. Putting the focus on an important concept is, again, key. However, metaphors are most impactful when used sparingly. Consider if it’s a good time to add a metaphor each time and realize that the answer may sometimes be ‘no.’

We had some open discussion after these two topics. One of the items that stuck with me was when talking about introducing characters. It’s important to give a snapshot of the character when they’re introduced. It helps readers visualize your character, see them in the movie playing in their head. If you fail to give a brief snapshot of them, you may be fighting an image in their heads when you add more detail later. This struck a chord with me because I’m revising the beginning of my novel now and I can think of a few characters who aren’t described well in their opening scene.

That’s all for this month. I’m really glad to have learned so much from my fellow writers! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!