Oh, the short story. So easy to fuck up – and yet, when done well, so absolutely transcendent. I have struggled with the form as a writer and, recently, as a reader: I find collections difficult to read and often don’t engage as much as I should with the individual stories that I do like.
How it has taken me so long to discover Selected Shorts, I’ll never understand.
For those unfamiliar, it’s a live event hosted at Symphony Space where spiffy people (actors, celebrities, authors) read full short stories. Not cast with several people – just one person, reading a story. It’s a delightful way to engage with a story and really live with it for a spell. It almost feels like the ideal way to do so.
Last night was the kickoff for the 30th Anniversary Season and the theme (loosely) was parties. We had readings from Christine Lahti, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Cerveris, Anika Noni Rose, and James Naughton – as well as a lovely tribute both to Selected Shorts and to the late founder of the program (and former AD of Symphony Space) Isaiah Sheffer. There was a champagne toast and a convivial atmosphere throughout the night, turning the sometimes cavernous space into something altogether comfortable.
As for the stories: all five performances were terrific, but I want to single out a few moments. For one, Amber Tamblyn’s reading of an Etgar Keret short story made me reevaluate my experience with Keret’s most recent collection – which I enjoyed but felt almost overwhelmed by. Hearing a single story though, I realized just how incisive a writer he is, managing to make things so clear even without actually stating them and achieving an emotional response at the end of the story that feels both satisfying and earned.
It’s also always a joy to see Michael Cerveris do anything. He brought such an energy to his reading of a quirky Sherman Alexie tale – a humor, an emotional something-something, and just that sense of being a true stage performer – that it was impossible not to be enraptured. This is no slight on any of the other performers; it’s just that Cerveris lives in a different plane.
Finally, in keeping with the celebratory theme (and after Anika Noni Rose’s moving, if bleak, excerpt from David Rakoff’s Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, it was a much needed boost. PS how that Rakoff didn’t make it into the ToB last year still escapes me.), the night closed with James Noughton delivering Thomas Meehan’s “Yma Dream” – apparently a recurring favorite at Selected Shorts. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, from The New Yorker in ’62 originally I think, you should find it – it’s hilarious. And Noughton did a marvelous job keeping a straight face throughout the increasingly farcical plot machinations.
Some people don’t love short stories and that’s okay – I myself blow either very hot or very cold, sometimes with no warning which. But 30 years of audiences can’t be wrong: there is something magical about hearing a short story read to you. I’m downloading the podcast now – and I can’t wait to go back for more.