Coming on the heels of The Tsar of Love and Techno, which I loved and thought was masterfully conceived and well-written, I read two other short story collections. One was good and the other was a massive disappointment.
I had previously read many of the stories from Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories but hadn’t ever read the full collection. I liked it, but wasn’t bowled over or anything. I do admire O’Connor’s style, although I find it a bit heavy-handed at times.
If you’re looking for some Flannery O’Connor, I would actually recommend her book of essays Mystery and Manners instead–it gets at a lot of her philosophy of writing and creativity, and would also shed some light on the stories if you do wind up reading them.
My extreme disappointment with Hilary Mantel’s short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories, most likely stems from the fact that Mantel is an exceptional novelist. Her books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are among my all time favorites, primarily because of her penetrating style and ability to write unbelievably layered prose and plots in an effortless way that balances being gorgeous with readability. But I think the reason I love her style so much is her ability to pull off those skills in a long-form story. In short stories, it felt thinner, more brittle, less insightful. The stories were fine. At the end of each one I found myself saying, “OK” rather than “that was incredible.” So if you haven’t read any of Mantel’s previous work I would not recommend Assassination be your first foray, lest you wonder what all the fuss is about and skip Wolf Hall or Bring Up. If you loved those books, you likely will read Assassination no matter what, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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