Even though I have a few boxes of story collections lined up for this month, I found myself in a Borders yesterday and having heard/read quite a bit about the fairly recent (fall 2010, Riverhead) collection from Danielle Evans, before you suffocate your own fool self, I purchased it and of course shiny and new is what caught my eye last night.
I find myself looking at acknowledgment or copyright pages in story collections to see where an author's work has been published, and to see what sort of percentage of the stories were published in journals prior to the collection appearing. In this case, the copyright page reminded me that I can be lazy at times, and maybe as I embark on tons of posting over the next 31 days (including today) it is not the best time to be lazy, but when I noticed that the story "The King of a Vast Empire" was published by FiveChapters, well, I knew that if I was going to quote anything from the story it would allow me to cut/paste and not have to type everything out (maybe the worst reason ever for selecting a single story to read in a collection). I'm sure a smarter person would have told you that I chose this story so his readers could also read the story without rushing to find the book.
It turned out to be a fine choice as I really enjoyed the story. Having finished the story and looking for some links to include to this post, stumbled on a few reviews, it seems that no matter what story I selected of the eight within, I probably would have been impressed--the reviews and ravings are pretty uniform; Danielle Evans is one talented writer.
The story begins:
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, my sister called to tell me she’d decided to be an elephant trainer. At first, the only thing I could think of elephants being trained for was the circus, which we had never been to as kids, so I pictured cartoon elephants balancing on giant plastic beach balls, like in “Dumbo.” I thought for a second that Liddie was dropping out of school altogether to wear sparkly spandex and chase them around with a baton, which seemed unlikely on any number of counts. My sister liked college, had once been banned from the local Fluff N Stuff pet boutique for trying to liberate a show poodle, and hadn’t been near a stage since she quit dance school, in the sixth grade, after calling its photo display of smiling ballerinas the hall of kiddie porn for voyeurs without the balls to be real pedophiles, in front of the academy’s male director. Liddie was not running off to join the circus. What she actually had in mind was working at some kind of conservatory for elephants with post traumatic stress syndrome.
“Elephants experience trauma the way humans do,” she informed me. “They’re fascinating animals.”
“Humans aren’t that fascinating,” I said.
Evans does a great job with this paragraph and three sentence conversation. The reader immediately knows the time frame, learns a great deal about the sister, Liddie, and enough about the narrator, Liddie's brother, to get started. And the section ending with "Humans aren't that fascinating" is ideal as Evans allows her characters to show just how wrong her narrator could be. And the big about PTS is some nice foreshadowing.
One thing Evans has done is start this story in a place that could have been ninety percent of the way through a much longer work, and that seems just about perfect to me for a short story. She's captured a very specific bit and time period of this brother/sister's lives, and is able, within a few well done scenes, allowed the reader to learn the things that happened in their first twenty or so years that have led to this point. She's done so succinctly, but not so succinctly that the reader is left wanting for more information--to me, this is an important aspect of being a successful story writer; giving enough without getting the kitchen sink in the reader's way.
Every little thing that Evans adds: the narrator's recent break-up with his girlfriend; the fact that his identity is being borrowed (stolen seems like the wrong word when the person using his identity is actually helping his credit rating); the school exercise that gives us the title of the story and its relation to an autombile accident that the entire family was in years ago; the elephants, all work together really well, but also, in a way that doesn't immediately strike you that Danielle Evans was working with a dozen puzzle pieces and looking for the right way to construct the puzzle. She's put it all together in a seamless fashion.
I am definitely looking forward to reading the other seven stories in this collection.