The Shock of Recognition

Why short stories? Because they found me at an impressionable time.

Brandeis University, the very early 60s, and all everyone is talking about is Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus. Those stories jumped out, individually and collectively, into our consciousness.  Living zeitgeist. The shock of recognition.

Salinger’s Nine Stories, originally published in 1953, didn’t get on my radar until some 10 years later.  Where they’ve stayed.  Forever.  Have you (re)read them lately?

And Alice Munro, whose birthday we celebrated on July 10, created lives so concrete and stories so meaningful one stands in awestruck thanks.

How could I not want to enter this wondrous neighborhood in the 'City of Literature' (thanks Fay Weldon), where truth and excitement are being made in miniature.  My first, second, and third attempts at fiction were short stories. And it’s still where I live, for the most part.

Philip Roth's Conversion of the Jews gave me permission to mine my own background and ethos. JD Salinger's Uncle Wiggley in Connecticut showed me the way an interleaving of character and place and time could realize a story. And Alice Munro, like in Too Much Happiness, places stories back in time, helping me find an historical place for stories that work best “back then.”

It’s a great form, these watercolors of words: a way into other lives and living that borders on poetry, a form that says “Give me your twenty minutes, and I will reward you with at least one 'shock of recognition.’”  Who could ask for anything more than to be even a small part.

What literature inspires you to write? What gives you that shock of recognition? Leave your comments below!