As far as short stories go, well, one of them is pretty good.
The thing is both of the stories I read this time around, The Arrangers of Marriage by Adichie and The Year of Spaghetti by Murakami both feel like sketches done in preparation for a larger work.
This is something painters usually do, make sketches to study a particular scene they intend to use for a large painting. It can be interesting to see these sketches. Often a painter will even do a smaller version of what will later become a larger canvas. While it’s fun to see how the artist prepared, it’s never as strong an experience as seeing the actual painting. And the sketches are typically not seen as good examples of the art of sketching.
In both of the stories today there is a strong sense that the author is working out ideas that will appear in a larger work. Murakami has a character who vows to eat nothing but spaghetti for an entire year.
Spring, summer, and fall, I cooked away, as if cooking spaghetti were an act of revenge. Like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace, I tossed one handful of spaghetti after another into the pot.
Adichie writes about a Nigerian woman who marries an American and how she adapts to life in America. She meets an African-American woman who asks her what her Igbo name means
“God answers prayers.”
“It’s really pretty. You know, Nia is a Swahili name. I changed my name when I was eighteen. I spent three years in Tanzania. It was fucking amazing.”
“Oh,” I said and shook my head; she, a black American had chosen an African name, while my husband made me change mine to an English one.
While both stories are good, they each seem like the author working through ideas that will later appear in novels where they will have much more impact overall. This is fine, I guess, but I really missed reading stories written to be stories this round.
It’s my experience that an author writing with a good short story as the final goal will produce a better short story than an author who is sketching out ideas for a larger work.
Sometimes, Murakami writes stories to be writing stories, but I think Adichie always has longer fiction on her mind. Her stories are the weaker for this, but her novels are darn fine novels.
Both are terrific writers.