Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Homing by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Many people say, "I don't like short stories, they're so unfulfilling." There is a fad in short story writing at the moment of leaving the reader hanging high up there with their legs swinging in the air and you the writer walk away waving "bye-bye". I always feel a bit undermined by such stories. As if I haven't been let in on a private joke. It's not fair and I completely get readers' frustrations since I feel it myself when a writer treats me so.

There is something very comforting about reading a short story written by Henrietta Rose-Innes. From the second you begin you feel safe, you know she will not leave you up there hanging as she walks away with a knowing smirk on her face. You will, instead, leave the story satisfied, like you were allowed dessert after a big plate of lasagne. You will want absolutely nothing else.

I'm a bit of a manic short story writer. I don't plan, unlike my books which I plan incessantly. With short stories, I get a tiny bit of an idea and then sit down at the computer and hope the story will have legs. Sometimes it doesn't and I put it away. Sometimes it has ugly, useless legs that carry me to a place I don't like very much. Other times the story walks calmly and with certitude to its conclusion and I am pleased. But it is all about chance.

With Henrietta Rose-Innes you feel as if it is never about chance. You feel she is always firmly in control of things and you need not worry at all, you will enjoy the ride and arrive at your destination safely.

In her first collection of short stories, Homing, I cannot pick out a single story that is lacking. I finished the collection some weeks ago and still certain stories are sitting stubbornly at the front of my brain demanding I take spare moments to give them a thought.

One in particular is "Promenade" about a middle aged man who takes his evening exercise walking along the edge of the ocean in Cape Town. Each day he passes a certain man, he later decides is a boxer, and they develop an odd connection for the few seconds each time they meet. It is a haunting story about our connections to our species-mates and how our actions impact on everything around us.

"Homing" the first story in the collection is another that will not leave me alone. It is about an elderly couple and how a new fancy hotel built next to their modest home upsets their lives. Rose-Innes builds the tension by showing us the couple's vulnerability created by this intrusion into their settled, safe life.

Besides her confident and competent way of approaching short stories, Rose-Innes does not try to dazzle the reader with bells and whistles which is highly appreciated by this reader. She tells her story plain and simple and then pops the reader with the human truth laid bare. This is an excellent collection I read in nearly one sitting, and will definitely be pulling down off my shelf to read again.


karen said...

Hi Lauri
Wishing you a wonderful 2011!

More reading material to add to my neverending wishlist!! I do love this about blogging...

Lauri said...

Hi Karen
Thanks for the kind wishes. I hope your 2011 is fantastic too!

Helen Ginger said...

It sounds like an excellent book of stories. I've never been much of a short story reader, but I'm changing.

I'm with you, I would not like a short story that left me hanging. I like them wrapped up and/or with a lesson.