Justin Taylor’s Flings, a collection of short stories, started out on a high note for me. Each story is a brief glimpse into one moment in a relationship. Taylor brings you into his characters’ thoughts and feelings, making it easy to connect with them.
To be honest… That’s how I felt during the first few stories. Then I started to feel more and more like I was reading variations on a theme, where the variations all sound just a little too similar. Eventually I found myself fighting to hold interest, working too hard to read instead of skim. Just when I was planning to set the book aside, “Carol, Alone,” about an elderly woman adjusting to life after her husband’s death, pulled me back in (as did “Saint Wade”). I gained some momentum, only to have it fizzle out again.
Would I have a different impression if I hadn’t read the stories back to back? Should a short story collection require its reader to take breaks between stories in order to stay fresh? I tend to feel that each story should make me want to read more, not think about setting the collection aside. The stories in Flings that stuck with me were gems, but it wasn’t enough to clear my overall disappointment.
How do you approach short story collections? Do you tend to read them straight through (if they are a reasonable length), or do you read a couple, set the book aside, and read something else before coming back to the collection?