Industry wisdom talks about how hard it is to sell short story collections - they regularly yield groans when they're announced on a list. While sales figures may support that wisdom, my own personal love of them makes me Pshaw whenever a publishing person starts sighing.
I. Love. Short. Stories. To be able to grab a reader in such a shortened format, to really nail a character, grab the heartstrings, really involve someone in a short batch of pages - that, to me, takes a special kind of talent. So it's no surprise that I've picked up two collections in a row for my subway reading: Robin Black's If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This and Mary Gaitskill's Don't Cry.
Oh, what different reading experiences! I DEVOURED the Black. Every single piece was worth reading, every single character worth knowing - it was exquisite, and I wish I could go proselytize about it on the street corner. (I suppose I'll have to just embrace the Internet!) She achieves what a short story writer rarely does by making each piece feel different; their commonality was a certain heartbreak, a prevalence of melancholy, but each individual piece felt distinct from the next. Collections often seem to hold stories that bleed into one another. You can see how the author has a theme or a character in their head, and seems unable to keep that from recurring time after time.
Like the second collection I'm still reading, Don't Cry. I keep slogging through pages, hoping that it will change and one story will leap off the pages at me, but I'm not going to hold my breath. One piece blends into the next - unending riffs on violent sex and hate-filled female characters who seem angry that they're not the boss of everyone around them - on and on with people I don't want to know, lives I find I have zero interest in peeking in on.
I would recommend avoiding the Gaitskill like the plague (and am working really hard at not abandoning it halfway through - I don't like orphan reads), but would suggest you run run run to get the gorgeous debut from Black, which goes on sale March 30.