Impossible, of course. Taste rears its ever-personal, ever-subjective head. Sometimes it will smile benignly, other times it will sneer and affect the expression of someone has just had a particularly offensive smell parked below their nose. Even if a writer makes it past the gatekeepers of publishing, there’s still no pleasing everyone.
There are stories you read that are undeniable great writing, but act like a proverbial Chinese meal. Twenty minutes later, all impression or memory has faded. And those stories that live with you? Does their lingering imply some authorial magic, or just that they moved you? That something about them stayed on after they’d gone, like a hint of aftershave after the stranger steps out of the lift.
So, being entirely subjective, here are two short stories that would be in a theoretical anthology I will almost certainly be invited to compile.
Michael Chabon: More than Human (in A Model World and Other Stories)
One of a series of stories in a sequence called The Lost World, that charts the unfolding of the divorce of the parents of Nathan Shapiro and his realisation that this is what is actually happening. The only short story I can remember ever making me cry, especially in its ending, as we see – through Nathan’s eyes but from his father’s written testimony – how the closeness they both sought evaded both of them. (That subjective thing? The NY Times thought Chabon had provided “a tidy explanation that acknowledges the existence of Nathan’s feelings without allowing him, or the reader, to discover and experience them”. So it goes.)
Bernard Cooper: Graphology (in Guess Again)
When her husband dies unexpectedly, Libby doesn’t expect to find a notebook listing his encounters with other men. Though their coded references are readily deciphered, her dead husband’s dual identity is not, and she turns to graphology – a ‘science’ she is embarrassed to give credence too – as she tries to make sense of the man she thought she knew. Not only do we see the concealment of a gay life from a heterosexual partner’s point of view, we see the destructiveness of its impact on someone we can only assume the concealer had intended to protect.
So, those are two of mine. But what are yours, and why?