Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tiny Deaths: "So Proud"

"So Proud" is an interesting story in the Tiny Deaths collection. Like many stories here, it is a bit of a one-trick pony. The thing is that Robert Shearman's handling of the tricks are what makes the stories worth the time.

The trick in "So Proud" is that a woman is impregnated by her husband. She gives birth a couple days later to a couch. This happens again and again and she gives birth to various pieces of furniture. The husband sells the furniture, their children, for money.

Shearman's prose allows quick and easy reading while still entertaining.

The next time she fell pregnant he didn't get angry at all. On the contrary. He brought her cups of tea, kept asking how she was, wanted to make sure she didn't overexert herself. And he'd nuzzle her swelling belly, kiss it, and whisper to it - what are you going to be when you grow up? What are you going to be?

Then she gives birth to more furniture. On the surface, this sounds kind of dumb, but somehow Shearman makes the story work.


Rob Shearman said...

Thanks for your take on my stories - which I'm reading with interest. Thought-provoking stuff. (And, obviously, thanks for buying the book too!)

I worry that all my stories are one trick ponies as well, of course. That these attempts to do 'adult' fairy tales are really rather gimmicky. It's very difficult. 'So Proud', for example, is supposed to be a tale about abortion, obviously, and fear of commitment. But it's also intended to be about the ways we limit ourselves in our feelings, that we're always looking over our shoulders at any given moment we should be happy wondering if we're experiencing the right kind of love, the right kind of maturity or pride. And I worry that rather than tackle those things more successfully head on, I bury them all a bit with these sorts of stories. The one trick ponies, if you will!

So your reviews are especially useful. I always wonder whether I should continue or not. As I read your comments, the jury's still out! You keep trying, you know, but there are so many reasons not to carry on when there are so many better stories out there already. Thanks for taking the trouble to give my work your attention.

Joe said...

Hi Rob,

Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

While I do think that most of the stories have that one-trick pony aspect, they are short enough that not once does the trick itself wear thin. Had "So Proud", since we're commenting on that story's post, been a novella length with the same "trick", I'm not sure it would be have been as successful.

What I find so interesting about your comment is that I never saw the abortion / commitment bit. I might have been looking too hard at the furniture, so to speak. I like finding out what writers put into their fiction and what they intended it to be.

Keep on, though. On the whole, I liked Tiny Deaths. There may be better stories out there, but there always will. There's only one Ted Chiang, but that doesn't mean Joe Lansdale isn't worth the time. Not all of Jay Lake's stories hit my spots, but he's published a kabillion (the man is a machine). I may read a stinker in Asimov's, but I'll always look for another story from Mary Robinette Kowal. Or the Shadow Unit crew. I've only read one story from Lori Selke, but it was awesome.

There's some great stuff out there, and there's some stinkers, too. Just because there is a hypothetical "better" story doesn't mean (to me) that another shouldn't be written and that there isn't merit in a "lesser".

Hope any of that makes sense.

And if it doesn't, well, you've been nominated for two World Fantasy Awards for your debut collection. I'm not the only one who likes your stuff.

One point of clarification, though...Comma Press sent me the review copy of your book. Sorry! :) I might not have been able to find a copy of it here in the States.

Rob Shearman said...

Thank you.

I didn't mean I was thinking about giving up writing, of course - it's been my living for the last sixteen years, and I really don't know what else I'd be doing with my afternoons now! But the short story form is a new one to me, and I've had fun trying to learn what my take on it is. It's been nominated for several awards over here besides, all non-genre related, so the World Fantasy Awards were very much the icing on the cake. (Very surprising too - I'm really not a part of the sci-fi world, so it's all very new to me. Most of the critics I know deny that my book is fantasy at all! ...Which seems a little hard to justify when there are stories using metaphors like furniture birth in them. But it does mean that the fantasy tag is a somewhat awkward one, as I don't think my stories make the quirk the point of the story - if anything, they are starting points for realistic takes on relationships. The WFA panel will never have time for the more acclaimed stories like 'Grappa' or 'Favourite', I'd have thought. Which is interesting to me, because looking at the book from the WFA angle does lend it a completely new perspective - even though I worry that the tag might mislead some readers.)

But, as you say, I shall carry on. I have written a new collection which is due out early next year, and (in the manner of these things) getting a little bit of buzz. The stories in that are rather odd too, but I think further from the sci-fi fantasy genre than the ones in 'Tiny Deaths', so that might well mean we lose a certain degree of attention for another. (It's been the oddest thing about 'Tiny Deaths' - the first award nominations choosing to elevate it to the level of Contemporary Literature, in which genre fiction is traditionally snubbed! All very odd, the way that books end up getting stuck into 'genres' and ghettoised as a result!)

As I say, though, thanks for the attention. Even if you *didn't* buy the book, as it turns out! (Ha!)

Best wishes


Joe said...

Fantasy is a fairly broad genre, though the obvious trappings would be of Mr. Tolkien. But, there is a wealth of other material out there which falls under the large umbrella of fantasy while bearing no resemblance to Lord of the Rings.

In the short form, and the award nominated short form, this is especially clear. Look at the fiction of Kelly Link or Jeffrey Ford. Or M. Rickert.

Either way, the World Fantasy jurors tend to look at more literate fantasy that looks at all aspects of the fantastic, not just the more "traditional" high fantasy of Tolkien.