The short story can be a magical thing. It’s a breath, a moment, a captured mood — or an entire teeming world packed into a few pages. Maybe, if it’s really great, it’s both. The only trouble with short stories is that not enough people read them. So, in a series to celebrate Short Story Month (and help you add to your reading list), Flavorwire is asking some contemporary masters of the form to talk about the short stories they love. In this installment, virtuosic fabulist Norman Lock, whose newest collection Love Among the Particles hit shelves this month, tells us about his literary love of the moment.
Norman Lock: A favorite story? You might as well ask for a favorite moment in a life crowded with them. The priority of stories, paintings, pieces of music changes, moment by moment, according to one’s emotional or intellectual need. Thirty-five years ago, I borrowed a book – The Stories of S.Y. Agnon – and, shamefully, I’ve yet to return it. The stories, written in Hebrew during the 1930s and 1940s by this Nobel Prize-winning author, are like mine in their oneiric quality. But in their temperature (that of a cool late-autumn evening) and their restraint (such as is possessed by an aloof and self-effacing magician), they are not at all like my heated and unstoppered tales. To come upon them after having forgotten them yields the same pleasure and surprise that I recall, still, when I chanced on two small Chagalls in a shadowy corner of a museum 40 years ago. Agnon’s “To Father’s House” means something to me – something personal, in the way of a parable, admonishing me for what is everywhere evident in my Love Among the Particles: the bipolarity of a writer who wants to escape into his art – his words – and feels guilty for having betrayed the democratic principles and obligations taught him by his parents. In Agnon’s tale, a man – a writer, perhaps – remembers with uneasiness that a long time has passed since he visited his father living in the distant town of his childhood. Painters have come on this, the night before Passover, to plaster and whitewash the man’s workroom walls; and he frets that his work and his books will be ruined by their carelessness. A child appears, his young niece, as if from thin air; and he treats her with neither love nor charity. He finds himself, as though transported there, in the streets of his father’s town; and invents reasons why he ought not to pay his respects at once to his father and allows trivial interruptions (by a second child, an innkeeper, an interpreter of obscure biblical texts) to keep him from performing his filial duty. Resisting sleep, to which, one senses, he long before this surrendered, the narrator (surely, he is a writer!) struggles to open his eyes. “Suddenly, I heard a noise like that of a sheet being torn. Actually, no sheet was being torn, but one small cloud high above was being torn, and once it was torn the moon came out, splitting the clouds, and a sweet light shone upon the house and upon Father.” And having lost mine not so very long ago, I say to you that – for me, now – this is my favorite story.