intense sensations

Think lean!

Posted on: January 21, 2012

The Complete Short Stories: Volume 1The Complete Short Stories: Volume 1 by J.G. Ballard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a bad buy for a book blogger. Volume 1 is so huge that it will probably take me a year or more to finish it. Meanwhile my blog will become an arid desert, deprived of nourishment, a victim of the Great World Slump, while I idle away depraved hours in the company of this prolific perfectionist.

In the introduction, Mr. Ballard accuses modern readers of having lost the knack of reading short stories. They are too used to baggy and long-winded TV soaps. Most novels, he claims, “would have been better if they had been recast as short stories.”

But the short story still survives, especially, he says, in science fiction. Not that Mr, Ballard writes science fiction. He describes the settings of his own work as “a kind of visionary present.”

I have read one of J.G. Ballard’s novels (see my earlier review of Cocaine Nights) but apparently even that, like most of his novels, was first tried out and tested in short story form.

As a devotee of short stories, I am predisposed to approve of Mr. Ballard’s observations but I would add that he neglects to mention erotic stories. Some of his stories are erotic but not as intensely erotic as the kind I prefer.

I would argue that erotic fiction works best in short story form. I have tried a few flabby erotic novels and tired of them long before the climax. There are exceptions, of course, and I’ve reviewed a few in my blog, but even erotic novelists are still intensely active in the short story form and for very good reasons.

So anyway, I’m giving this collection of not especially erotic stories 5 stars because it is brilliant, engrossing and stimulating and inspires me to go on with my own highly concentrated craft.

It’s quite good when you’re on a diet, too. Think lean!

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9 Responses to "Think lean!"

I used to read short stories, but less and less as I get older. I don’t know why, but I think you’re right – certain genres would do better with short stories, like erotica :) Hard to imagine an epic erotica novel in my head :)

I can imagine an epic erotica novel in my head but I am too lazy to share it with you right now. Actually I hated short stories when I was younger and I read more short stories as I get older. Perhaps it is because I seem to have less and less time with each passing year.

I totally agree about the short form in erotic work. Sex does tend to interrupt the narrative arc, I find, which can make it hellish hard to sustain tension – story or erotic.

You are a master (or should that be mistress?) of both the long and short form, Nikki. You even do the ultra-short form very well (known to some of us as Haiku).

I write (and read) very short, short, medium, long and epic erotica – it depends on the story arc, as with any genre.

epic erotica? do you need the kiss of life afterwards?

Ballard is a master weaver of atmosphere, able to conjure the strangest landscapes in a few words. Eroticism seems to me to be very much a matter of atmosphere, mood and intent. So even if Ballard is describing a flower that sings, I sense an erotic undertone. Or maybe I just have a one-track mind.

In a very different way, Yasunari Kawabata’s “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories” do the same thing. He starts with a tiny twist of something, a gesture or a fleeting moment of insight, and develops it into a page or two of intensely-worked prose. The art is knowing when it’s finished. Knowing when to stop. A story – or, in erotic fiction, a sex scene – vibrates with life when it’s the right length. A sentence too long and it turns into chewing-gum. I don’t see any reason why a work of erotica shouldn’t be long, provided that the idea is developed to its full extent and then… stop.

Oh no, I have never heard of Yasunari Kawabata. I must disappear to repair the hole in my education.

You have a treat in store.

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