I’m going to be honest with you: short stories are not my first choice of reading material, and although I may pick up a collection from the library once in a blue moon if it catches my eye, I will always prefer to read longer pieces of fiction. Well, long in moderation, of course!
I do, however, admire short story writers; in comparison to novelists, they are much more like poets in that they can make a reader feel and experience so much within such a short space. This quote by Michael Sanwick, a science fiction writer, sums up the craft of short stories perfectly:
A short story…can be held in the mind all in one piece. It’s less like a building than a fiendish device. Every bit of it must be cunningly made and crafted to fit together perfectly and without waste so it can perform its task with absolute precision. That purpose might be to move the reader to tears or wonder, to awaken the conscience, to console, to gladden, or to enlighten. But each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end. The ideal short story is like a knife–strongly made, well balanced, and with an absolute minimum of moving parts.
Latha Viswanathan’s short story collection Lingering Tide and Other Stories has been described as a box of chocolates, and I cannot argue otherwise: the settings stretch from Toronto to Texas, from India to Manila, depicting stories about the old and young, weddings and funerals, childhood and parenting, stories that will touch your heart, make you laugh and even make you cry.
I’m not going to pretend I liked all of the stories – a few, like ‘Attar’ were a little too dense for me, but out of the twelve stories I preferred the ones that portrayed the lives of people in India and the experiences of the Indian diaspora. Overall, they felt more genuine to me. The ones that stood out the most for me were: ‘Brittle’, the story of a young girl’s unusual friendship with an old woman suffering from the demands of Indian culture and obsessed with eating peanut brittle; “Summer secrets”, a young girl chooses a husband for herself and suffers the consequences of making the wrong choice; “Cool Wedding”, an Indian immigrant writes hilarious letters to her sister complaining about her husband, children and culture shock of life in America; “Third Eye”, the story of a strained mother-daughter relationship, a generation gap deepened by the experiences of immigration and culture clash; “Bat soup”, the poignant story of two young girls from a poor background, struggling with poverty, land mines and child birth.
What struck me most about this short story collection was Viswanathan’s writing style – her prose is well crafted, evocative and at times almost poetical. The descriptive passages are extremely vivid, especially when she describes the landscape and climate of Indian. In stories such as ‘Attar’, there is a strange mix of reality with almost magic realism that, although not something I personally enjoyed reading, I could see the charm it may have for other readers.
Overall, Lingering Tide is very much like a box of chocolates: you might not fancy every single chocolate in the box, but there are definitely a few to be savoured.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review purposes; this does not, however, affect my review in any circumstance. My reviews will always reflect my honest opinions.