I had a sneaking suspicion I might like Thompson's stories - even though I'd never read one. I made secret plans to secure a copy of her latest collection over the holiday weekend. A super-stylish publicist beat me to the punch and a copy of Throw Like a Girl was in my mailbox before I could even map out my route. I jumped in expecting greatness. Exuberant greatness. What I got instead was a quiet greatness, a depth that grows on you after you've finished the stories. Turned them over in your mind a bit.
I'm a sucker for the quick in & the vague out. My short story collection selections over the past month have shown this, if nothing else. I'm intrigued by snappy intro sentences that are funny, quirky. Thompson's intros are less overtly funny, less on-the-face-of it quirky. Yet her sentences still crackle, her characters are humorous, but with a certain grace. A bit more room around the words to breathe. This allows her characters - quirky in their own right, but also, somehow universal in their neediness and sadness and confusion - to quietly tell their stories in quick glimpses, giving us a peek at critical but brief in-between-moments in their ever-changing lives. She gives us women at important crossroads, at moments just before the big moment -- or moments just after the big moment. She gives us women who, while not sure they've made the best decisions, are sure they need to tell their stories and they do so with aplomb. I've not seen a short story writer do the big and the small so well with such fluidity, such grace.
I always go in for the brisk staccato of "look at this! and this! and how funny is this!" writing, and never seem to have the patience for fully-realized worlds, characters, scenarios that are compressed into the span of only twenty pages. They always feel too compressed, like trying to squeeze so much in and there's simply not space to do it justice. If not staccato funny, I then prefer spare, clean sentences that seem - to me - more effective in short story form (I think here of Salter's short stories.) Yet, Thompson has flipped my silly notion on its head. She has somehow created stories that expand, have room to breathe, but don't feel too full of extra stuff. Her women are confused, in the middle of some odd things, but they are their things, their choices...which they seem not only aware of, but willing to own. These stories are lovely.