Salman Rafi on My Short Stories – Why A… Mr WordPress on Hello world!
My Short Stories – Why Are They Like That?
For me, the stories in this collection represent my struggle to find a language and form that can help me best encompass my experiences. Readers will immediately see that both the language and the form of these stories is varied. I do not stick to one style nor do I stick to one formal way of constructing a story. By this I mean, I am not like some short story writers who develop a style or a way of structuring a story and then deploy it in story after story through much of their careers. One example of this approach that comes to mind is O. Henry. He found one structure that worked well for him (the story with the surprise twist at the end) and he stuck to this model. I do not do that. Nor do my stories have a common thread or theme that can be seen to unite them. Here I am thinking of the Joycean paradigm in “Dubliners.” All the stories in “Dubliners” are about people who live in Dublin at the turn of the century and all are written in a dry, rational (objective) prose that abjures ornamentation and excessive stylistic flourishes. Another example could be Donald Barthelme, who discovered a surrealistic concept that pleased him and also happened to please his readers. So he used it in story after story.
My stories do not have a connecting theme or thread because my life did not have a connecting theme or thread. As I a deracinated Pakistani, divorced from my mother culture and my mother tongue, I confronted the world as an alien, a citizen of not one country but the world. In olden days writers lived and died in their mother cultures. There is our Hardy, doggedly cultivating his few acres in “Wessex;” there is Dickens, painting the scene he knew so well: London in the latter half of the 19th century.
I was never rooted in one place or culture or society in this way. So my stories bounce from country to country, culture to culture, scene to scene. In a limited way, my experience is like that of Hemingway. After having done the Nick Adams stories, he never felt the need to restrict himself to depicting the society, the manners and the problems of the United States. I would love to know why this was the case. If he were alive today and I could pose this question to him, I would certainly ask him. Why is there no story about the segregation problem that lay festering in the gut of the country? Why is there no story about the economic collapse of 1929 which had a profound effect on his motherland? Why isn’t there any story about suburbia and suburbanites, the mother lode that Cheever and Updike mined so successfully? Hemingway is silent on those topics. His best wrote stories are about people and places that sparked his imagination. And this could happen anywhere that he happened to be at any given time. His is the art of the uprooted writer who writes in hotel rooms as he travels from country to country, in tents pitched on the African plain, on boats between bouts with Marlin.
Similarly, my stories also reflect my journeys, my experiences, my sense that the whole world is my subject and I need not limit myself to one town, one suburb or one society.
So, dear reader, you are forewarned! You will find yourself yanked hither and yon. Better strap on that seat-belt. Turbulence ahead!
Now let us consider the matter of style and the use of language. Once again the reader will not find a single syntactic or linguistic structure or consistent pattern of language use that could be characterized as the Qazi style. Many writers do have a trademark style. In fact, some writers try very hard to create it and then use it over and over again in work after work. And readers can easily recognize this style. Take Henry James, for example. You could take a sentence from any one of his novels and the reader, (who is familiar with Henry James’ work) will be able to recognize it as a Henry James sentence. One could do this with Hardy and also Dickens. You could do this with a Jane Austen paragraph. Now that I think about all this, another example comes to mind. Recently, I started reading a collection of stories by John Cheever. After you’ve read a few, you start to see certain similarities among them. We start to see a certain sameness in the choice of words, in the pattern of the sentences, in the sentiments and attitudes expressed. The reader begins to recognize the geography, the flora and fauna, the landscape of Cheever Country. The inhabitants of Cheever Country are easily recognizable. There names change, but they could never be mistake for the inhabitants of Hemingway country.
But in the eleven stories included in the “Unlikely Stories” collection there is no consistent or prevailing style. This is not an accident. This is by design. I don’t have a pre-fabricated style that I can use for every story I write. Each story creates and demands its own style. If you took two paragraphs from two different stories and set them side by side ,you would not recognize any similarities; you might even think the stories are by two different writers. That is fine by me. I find that writers who write all their stories in one style soon start to sound repetitive and dull. Moreover, readers begin to see the “hand” of the writer, the “hand” inside the sock-puppet. The writer is unable to create and sustain the illusion that fiction must create in the mind of the reader.
I feel I inherited a rich tradition of story telling that goes across continents and countries and cultures. The whole gamut of techniques that fiction writers have used over the ages, (starting with Homer) and ranging from Aesop’s fables to Thurber’s fables, going from realism to surrealism, from 19th century modes to Modernism and Post-Modernism. from parables, to parodies, to allegories (religious, moral, political), from magical-realism to hysterical realism, — in short, all formal modes are grist for my mill. I have always felt free to utilize one or a combination of several, to create my fictional worlds. I do not feel any need to limit myself or imprison myself in one particular structural or linguistic straight-jacket.
Each story is a new adventure, a new experience, a new beginning, another attempt to pin down the complex realities that surround us, befuddle us, overwhelm us, confuse us, distress us. Each story is like a wrestling match between me (the writer) and a wily and slippery opponent (the story). I feel no hesitation in marshaling all the tactics, maneuvers, hand-holds, and weaponry I can bring into the fray to at least attain a temporary victory. With the next story, I know, the battle will start again.
Today – August 26, 2012 – an event of signal importance occurred. Ed Teja published “Unlikely Stories” as an e-book. It is now available on the Internet for all to read and enjoy. I am happy. The Internet is now one of the world’s largest library. Not only that, it is available (open) round the clock, and it is available at the click of a button in the safety and comfort of your own home. What more could one ask for? Books are now easy to access free of charge or at a moderate cost and are available in a way they have never been before. A step forward for human civilization. Three cheers for the Internet! Below is the URL that will take you to the e-book.
I’ve been reading Gustave Flaubert’s biography by Frederick Brown. What amazes me is how many writers and artists Flaubert knew, died around or before they reached fifty and most of them from Syphillis. The few names that stick out in my memory are Guy de Maupassant(1850-1893, Jules Goncourt (1830-1870), Baudelaire (1821-1867, Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) and J.K. Huysmans (1848-1907). These are the last thirty years of the 19th century. The discovery of Penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and a real cure for the disease was still decades away. The disease raged on an killed brilliant men.
Nearly all of these writers are also mentioned in the autobiography of Emile Zola also by Frederick Brown.