I have read a lot more short stories in the past year. I have always considered short stories the stepchildren of contemporary fiction. Novels are the alpha and omega for most contemporary fiction (literary & genre) readers. Novellas (short novels between 20k-50k words) have become popular in the social media age. But the average reader has never truly embraced short stories. I don’t exactly know why short stories have gotten the short end of the literary stick, but I have recently come to embrace the art form and add it to my regular reading diet.
I will review and post about short stories regularly, similar to what I have done with novels and non-fiction books. I have already read and reviewed Haven by Alice Munro (from her Dear Life collection), Speech Sounds by Octavia Butler (from her Bloodchild & Other Stories collection), & Timeskip by Charles de Lint (from his Dreams Underfoot collection) on my blog. All three are excellent stories worth reading and recommended. Reading these stories has added versatility and a much-needed jolt to my reading life. I believe short stories are a good entry point for non-readers to becoming readers.
My next short story review is L’Alchimista by N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin is one of the biggest names in the science-fiction and fantasy genre in the past decade. She has taken the mantle from the late Octavia Butler and become the Northstar for black women genre writers on the whole. L’Alchimsta is a story from her How Long ‘Til Black Future Month collection. I read the entire short story collection last year and this story is my favorite by far.
L’Alchimista tells the story of Franca, a talented but frustrated chef working in a small Italian inn where she sees her career has come to a dead end. However, a mysterious stranger comes to the inn and offers her to make an unusual dish that will test her abilities on several levels. Franca agrees to make this unusual dish and the mysterious stranger is pleased with the chef deciding to take on the challenge.
She makes the dish, and the stranger is delighted with the result. He offers her a new opportunity that will cause her to make a life-changing decision. Does she accept his offer or reject it? Read the story for yourself to find out. However, I really enjoyed the story and Jemisin writes beautifully. She adds a softness to her storytelling that belies her reputation as a feminist writer and social justice in her novels. I could totally relate to Franca’s frustrations as a chef (and artist) and this paragraph sums up those feelings:
Once she had been at the top of her field: a certified master, a respected woman in a man’s profession, an artist with a promising career. One error of judgment had sentenced her to an endless purgatory of downscale, dead-end restaurants. She would not have minded that so much if the appreciation had not vanished along with the acclaim, but there it was: She was a better chef now than she’d been at the height of her career, and no one cared. Except one man.
As an artist (it does not matter the medium) you will get a lot of nos, but one yes can change everything. Jemisin shows the time-honored principle at work in the story. L’Alchimista is an excellent story and if you are foodie like myself, then you will connect to the story on a deeper level. Bravo N.K. Jemisin!