Paul Griner’s “Hurry Please, I Want to Know” is a Feat of Compact Storytelling

July 14, 2016
By Alexandria Moore, AW Intern

I’ve quietly believed for a long time that a great novel must be under 400 pages. I don’t know why this has struck me as the golden page number, but I’ve found few examples in the greater span of literary fiction that don’t have untrimmed fat. Even the very best writers often detour, then return to that razor clarity of succinct, nuanced storytelling.

For the best kind of tight narrative, look no further than Paul Griner’s collection of short stories, Hurry Please, I Want to Know. Page one of his book holds the whole of “Animati”, a story that depends on every word; a story contained in a moment, maybe less than a full minute; a story that couldn’t be less about plot, but is replete with sensory experience. All you really learn: there’s a surprise party, an older woman, and a deep sense of desire. It feels like enough at the end of the page.

Some of the stories seem like visions into a larger narrative, scenes pulled at random from a single life and intentionally separated to give the illusion of individualism. This might be due to the predominance of middle-aged white male narrators. But there are exceptions. The reader is asked to look at a woman’s mind after her miscarriages; there’s a scene of a rice farmer’s child fishing for dreams; a daughter, returning home and detailing in lovely honesty the ugly way cancer is killing her mother.

These narratives are handled with such soothing empathy, such subtle renderings of grief, that they perhaps carry the most weight.

A small mention has to be made for the most compelling plot movement of any short story I’ve ever read, and one of the funniest: “The Wind, It Blows Forever” begins with a few pages of good fun and slapstick foolishness, then lands the reader in the slow-way-down, read-it-again territory of a dark mood switch. Somehow, it seems effortless.

The greatest accomplishment for a short story writer—of any writer—is to write so well and so succinctly that the reader feels compelled and eased into rereading it, pulling out the things that were just below the surface.

I can’t say anything else until I read Paul Griner’s stories again.

Paul Griner is the Writer in Residence for July 2016. He will read and discuss his work at a free public event at HOOCH CRAFT COCKTAIL BAR on July 19 at 5:30pm.

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