Monday, 20 July 2009

Sweet Land Stories by E.L. Doctorow

First off, I'll just apologise for not being here very much over the last couple of weeks. I haven't been reading or blogging much because life got in the way. But, all being well, I'm back now. What I have read has had to be in short bursts, so it's been short stories and books with short chapters!

Sweet Land Stories is a collection of five short stories, all with very different themes, but all with a focus on character development, which is not something that can be easy to do in short stories, but is done very well here. They all deal with some fairly heavy issues and centre on completely different characters, some likeable, some dislikeable, but none of them seem to be in between. Definitely different ends of the spectrum.

I struggle to review short stories, so I'll just give a quick overview of each story and see where I go from there! The first story, was actually my least favourite and concerned a woman with numerous dead husbands (suspicious), moving her son around the country to escape suspicion, and find a new husband. She was a thoroughly unpleasant person and the story illustrates the lengths some people will go to to secure their financial security. There is then a story about a insane woman who steals a baby from a hospital and the journey her and her boyfriend go on to escape the police. I liked this one because it was both a physical journey and a personal one as the both come to realise the reality of their situation and their feelings for each other. Then we have two stories that seem to be commenting on the ways and reasons that people abuse power a influence, one telling the story of the disintegration of a religious commune/cult and one dealing with the aftermath of a child's body found at a presidential gathering and how political influence and impact comes above truth and integrity, whatever the cost to ordinary civilians. And my favourite was Jolene;A life, the story of a serially abused, thrice married young woman who has been through an awful life but still manages to have hope for the future.

In fact, I think it's that note of hope and redemption that is present in all the stories that is what I liked so much about them. I've only realised as I'm writing this that that was so central to the stories.They all placed their characters in some horrible situations but ended with a note of hope for the future, or with the characters coming to realise their actions are wrong, and at least making a start to putting it right. I also liked the fact that the stories were just snapshots of part of a life. They ended with hope, and also were not tied up. With each story I was left with an impression that life goes on, and the story continues.


Anna said...

I'm curious about this one because of the character development you mention. That's one of the downsides for me when it comes to short stories. I always want to know more about the characters. Thanks for the review.

Diary of an Eccentric

Dot said...

I liike the idea of the character development as I think that is what short stories usually lack. Thanks for the review!

Jo said...

Anna and Dot, I like short stories anyway but the fact that the characters were so well devloped just added to these for me.