by Tania Hershman
stories are complete entities to themselves, which is why a
single-author collection of short stories is in a way a most unnatural
thing. A short story should be savoured alone, should stand and fall on
its own merits, not in relation to its siblings alongside. However, to
take the opposing view, a collection gives a greater insight into the
writer's worlds and characters, the themes that appear - whether
intended or not - across many stories. So, reading a collection of
stories pulls in two directions: there is the desire to keep reading
the next story and the next one, and the wish to pause in between and
Yannick Murphy's astonishing, perturbing collection of 24 short short
stories, In A Bear's Eye,
I would counsel the second course of action, because reading too many
in one go can cause a reader to be too deeply embroiled in Murphy's
lyrical, disturbing rhythms, her sideways impressions of people and
events. Singly, each piece, highly economical with words but by no
means short on all the elements necessary to make up a memorable,
powerful short story, punches in the gut, dizzies with its twists and
turns and reveals newness in familiar relationships and familiarity in
final story in the book, Ready
in the Night, is an excellent example of what I mean. Less
than two pages in length, it is about father and son, distance and
longing, connection and lack of it. This is the opening
mushrooms grow on the hotel lawn. He has seen them grow in the night as
he held the curtain aside. His son has told him you cannot see
mushrooms growing, but the father has seen the white tops coming up
brighter and rounder every hour, a field of rising moons.
much is contained here: we know where we are, we know who our
protagonist is, we sense the tension between father - awake in the
night - and son, and there is the magical element of
the growing. The story does not go in any pat, expected
directions, such as
father and son watching mushrooms together. No, Murphy doesn't
take any easy routes out, she wants to unpick what it means to be a
parent, a child, the difficulties, the small moments, the
this story also excellent demonstrates is Murphy's obvious fondness for
her characters, all of whom are flawed, as real people are, having made
and continuing to make mistakes. There is no faintly ironic narrator
that can often be found in third-person stories who observes and
comments on the characters. The narrator witnesses without analysis.
For example, from The
Only Light to See By:
mother took the girl back home.
When the mother went to bed that night, the girl stood up on her
mother's bed and wrapped the covers around herself like a cape, and the
mother thought to herself that the girl looked as if she was an eagle,
grown from out of the sheets and ready to fly.
place in various countries. There are animals –
dogs, bears, cows, rabbits, cocks, eagles. There is nature – lakes,
mountains, seas, forests. And there is death, or the possibility of
death. Murphy, who
also writes for children, employs in many of these stories a sing-song
rhythm, as can be seen from the quote at the top of the page, with
words repeated again and again. This lulls the reader in and often it
is not until you have finished a story that you realise how distressing
its subject matter actually is, whether it be the almost-bear-attack,
or a mother dealing with her daughter's reaction to a neighbor family's
murder. This is not to say that these stories are universally gloomy
but many of them are not for the faint of heart. In some, the language
veers towards poetry and the meaning is not always clear, but as with
good poems, nevertheless it strikes chords.
is independent publisher Dzanc's
second short story collection, and as with the first, Roy Kesey's All
Over, these stories require the reader to do some work, to
and under, to let go of the need to know more. If you put in the time
and effort, you will most definitely reap rewards.
Read one of the
stories from this collection, Aunt Germaine, in the Vestal
Publisher: Dzanc Books
collection?: No, second
Murphy is the author of the novels, Signed, Mata Hari, Here they Come and The Sea of Trees.
Her first short story collection is Stories in Another Language.
Her children's books include AHWOOOOOOOO!
and Baby Polar
(which is forthcoming in 2008/2009). She is the recipient of various
awards including a Whiting Writer's Award, a National Endowment for the
Arts award, a Chesterfield Screenwriting award and her story In a Bear's Eye was
recently published in the 2007 O'Henry Prize Stories.
with Yannick Murphy
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Publisher's Website: Dzanc
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you liked this book you might also like....
Roy Kesey "All Over"
Yannick Murphy "Stories in Another Language"
Aimee Bender "Willful Creatures"
other reviewers thought:
The Believer Mag