A few weeks ago I talked about the first batch of Faber Stories that I read, and mentioned that I had more on the way. There are 20 volumes in this little collection, which has really been helping with my goal to read more short stories in 2019 (and also feeding my penchant for tiny books). I’ve read 3 more now, so it’s time to update.
The Victim by P. D. James. 3 stars. – I had not read any P. D. James before picking up this story, but she is an author I’ve been wanting to try for a while. This story was originally published in 1973 and it does feel rooted in that time period, as the protagonist sends type-written letters to the man he intends to murder as a key plot point.
The story is expertly crafted, however; the clues to what will happen are carefully sown early in the piece but the inevitable conclusion is not obvious. Since the story starts from a future date that gives the reader an idea of how things will turn out, most of the story focuses on the how and why rather than relying on mystery to keep readers entertained. James does not need shocking twists to make her skill apparent.
I do think this is a strong piece that will be favored by readers who appreciate the careful maneuverings and covering-of-tracks involved in crime fiction, and even days later it is interesting to consider who the actual victim was in this tale. But though I enjoyed the piece, it just didn’t quite keep me intrigued on the same level as the other Faber Stories I’ve read thus far.
“A successful murder depends on knowing your victim, his character, his daily routine, his weaknesses, those unalterable and betraying habits which make up the core of personality.”
Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall. 4 stars. – This story is only a couple of years old, and is a strong contender for my favorite Faber Story so far. I was immediately hooked by the first paragraphs, which reminded me a bit of Sally Rooney’s writing- high praise.
But then there is a magical realism twist that takes the story in a new direction. It’s hinted at though not blatant in the synopsis, so I’ll say only that a transformation takes place, to avoid spoiling anyone who might not be aware of Mrs Fox‘s main event. I actually found the characters’ adjustment period in the middle of the story a bit boring, but worth the time in the end.
What I found most compelling about this story were the themes I drew from it, and honestly those are probably up to every reader’s personal interpretation. For me, this was a story about the difference between loving someone and trying to possess them, and also about how to continue to love someone for who they are even as they undergo a major, life-altering change. These ideas feel both timely and timeless, with the unanswered mystery of the transformation simply an interesting surface layer to deeper meaning beneath.
“To be comfortable inside one’s sadness is not valueless. This too shall pass. All things tend toward transience, mutability. It is in such mindful moments, when everything is both held and released, that revelation comes.”
A River in Egypt by David Means. 3 stars. – And finally, a 2010 piece about a father and his son awaiting a cystic fibrosis diagnosis. This story highlights the anxiety involved with confirming an unideal diagnosis, and the way that anxiety is complicated by the fact that there’s also relief to be found in the moments of not-knowing. There’s a wonderful nuance to the complication of emotion in such a situation.
But unfortunately, though I appreciate the concept, this story just wasn’t for me. I had a bit of difficulty with the writing style, which tends toward interrupting itself and doubling back in ways that had me occasionally rereading passages to decipher what exactly was going on. Then there was the issue of the narration, which focuses entirely on the mind of the father, who projects the thoughts and feelings of other characters. I found it difficult to know whether to trust his assumptions.
But I did feel some of the anxiety described and was convinced to dread the next appointment along with the rest of this family by the story’s end, so I cannot say it was entirely ineffectual.
Concluding Thoughts: The authors I’d be interested in reading more from here are P. D. James and Sarah Hall. (Recommendations welcome!) I’m having a great time reading these, even though two from this batch were only 3-star reads for me. They all leave me with something to think about and I can understand why each one of them made the cut in this collection.
I don’t think I’ll end up reading all 20 of the Faber Stories, but I do have another batch picked out so there will be at least one more set of mini Faber Story reviews.
The Literary Elephant