This is by way of a pendant to my previous post about short stories. Maureen Kincaid Speller picked up on that post and took it further in this discussion at Paper Knife. That, in turn, made me think further about short stories.
Sunday afternoon. A peddler in a purple chorister’s robe selling watches in Battery Park. Fellow with dreadlocks, a sweet smile, sacral presence. Doing well.
(There is something in that opening paragraph that reminds me irresistably of the opening of William Golding’s Free Fall. Possibly the shock of colour, the religious tone, I don’t know. But it is perhaps no coincidence that that is one of my favourite novels.)
Now ‘Heist’ is a wonderful story about a priest, already trying to cope with his loss of faith, having to deal with thefts from his church. Sound familiar? Yes, ‘Heist’ grew up into Doctorow’s novel City of God.
Which puzzled me, until I started thinking again about the distinction between novel and short story. It was Maureen’s piece, talking about fiction that presented as a short story but was really a novel that gave me the clue. I think City of God may be novel length, but it’s actually a short story.
By which I mean it is an impressionistic account of events seen in isolation, shorn of context. It is not performing the novelistic task of making sense of the world, but the short story task of presenting the puzzlement and confusion and mystery of the world.
Now all I’ve got to do is go back and see if City of God works better from this new perspective.