Saturday, 18 August 2018

Close Encounters

Last year, two beautiful hardcover collections of Garner's work were published: True Stories, her collected non-fiction, and Stories, her collected short stories. I purchased both at this year's Sydney Writers' Festival and have just finished the latter.

Readers of this blog will know how much I love Helen Garner's writing. In fact, I have never met a Garner I didn't love... until now. I am sorry to say that Garner's collection of 14 short stories did not win my heart. This left me perplexed, feeling as though I had failed as a reader, and trying to understand why I could not get into these stories.

I love short stories and have written previously about gifted storytellers like Alice Munro, Tegan Bennett Daylight, Angela Carter, Raymond Carver and others. I marvel at how authors can convey such depth in such brevity.

So why didn't I love Garner's collection? She is a gifted writer, and ofttimes I would marvel at her turn of phrase. She is also a laser-sharp observer of people, and can un-peel their many layers before your eyes. But the stories themselves all felt so morose and lonely. While I didn't enjoy every story in the collection, there were several stories that I thought were pretty good, like 'My Hard Heart' in which a woman is blindsided by her husband's infidelity.

In the end, perhaps my expectations were too high and I have over-Garnered myself. I have recently read Garner's brilliant novella The Spare Room and I am midway through her True Stories collection. So for now I am going to put Helen on hold and read other writers, so I can come back and enjoy her brilliance anew.