Short stories are often a tough read because the reader can be left wanting more than the author has opted to share. I happen to believe they are even tougher to write.
It’s difficult to know with any certainty what to leave out, say nothing of creating backstory, emotional arcs, detours, and discoveries in a few short pages. Reading Shorts, we encounter mastery. Hans Hirschi has produced profoundly intimate portraits on a canvas the size of a postage stamp. From the outset, these stories will hold you in thrall.
I received and advance copy in exchange for an honest review. So as not to spoil your read, I’ll focus on the major components of what is a most skillful execution. For me, impact tops the list. I’ve read entire novels that have had less impact and aroused less emotional response than many of the stories offered here. Hirschi inserts you so far into the narrator’s experience you can almost feel their blood coursing through your veins. Whether fleeing a war zone, mourning the loss of a lover or even plotting a murderous attack, his characters trigger strong emotional responses. Not an easy task by any means or measure, but for the medium of the short story, a bravura performance.
I was also impressed with the diverse range of characters. Here’s a partial list: A man from Mumbai recollecting his greatest love through the haze of Alzheimer’s disease. A corporate drudge whose bleak surroundings and even bleaker sense of self will unnerve you. A young man whose world collapses when he discovers a note with no signature. A Swedish refugee trying to save his husband and son by escaping a war zone. A young, gay man who has been bullied into a suicide attempt. A lesbian who decides to bear and raise her child of rape. A homicidal maniac whose addiction to violence is escalating rapidly. A mysterious counselor at a graveside bench. Each of these characters’ thoughts and emotions come alive when it’s their turn to tell their tale. I stand in awe of Hirchi’s ability to engage readers’ empathy for such a varied group.
There are a few stories I’d like to single out for special praise. “Alex” is a heartfelt rendering of a young person coming to terms with gender dysphoria. “The Bailiff”’s tale of heartbreak and loss brought tears to my eyes. “Nightmare” made the plight of refugees come alive in ways that CNN never will. “Sandra’s Grandma” and “Julia’s Mom,” so different yet so similar, moved me with their knowing take on the challenges of motherhood. I grew increasingly alarmed for the good guy in “The Slasher,” as if I were back in the cheap seats of my childhood movie theater, and I was broken-hearted by the end of “The Pink Triangle.”
Two stories worked less well for me for reasons that may be a matter of personal taste. “The Loner” echoed some of the themes of corporate and personal isolation so masterfully deployed in “The Photograph” but to me, its message was less compelling. “Fahrenheit” also didn’t seem quite as strong as its companions. These two stories share a similar narrative style that recounts the yearnings and disappointments of older, gay men. While these two stories are accurate portrayals of what many men experience in their later years, I wanted both characters to at least confront—if not overcome—their perceptions rather than accept them as inevitable. There’s a strong possibility I’m imposing my views with that assessment. Even if that’s the case, 2 out of 17 is an excellent success ratio for this persnickety reader, and any other nits I had were swept away by the sheer joy of devouring the stories in this book.
Shorts will captivate you, revealing common threads of humanity through beautifully crafted prose. An astounding array of well-crafted characters that pluck your heartstrings.
A.C. Burch is the author of a recently released book of short stories entitled A Book of Revelations.