Selected Shorts: Pets! (audio)

I just said I wasn’t going to do any more audiobooks any time soon; but this different format (and a road trip) convinced me.

petsThis collection includes six short stories, read by six different narrators, around a theme. The interpretation of “pets” varies, from cats and dogs through a mostly-wild parrot and a few mythical (or horrific) creatures. My feelings about the stories vary a little, too, but overall it was great fun.

In my opinion, we start off less than strongly with T. C. Boyle’s “Heart of a Champion,” read by Isaiah Sheffer, which parodies Lassie’s superdog perfection and the perfect haplessness of little Timmy, before winding up with a different and slightly sinister twist. Mom & I (on the road together from Fort Worth to Houston) agreed that this one was less engaging than the others, and didn’t exhibit the taut packaging of the very finest of short stories. Robertson Davies’ “The Cat That Went to Trinity,” read by Charles Keating, was delightful: a gothic story of academic rivalry, in which a professor at Massey College laments that institution’s inability to keep a college cat. They all go to Trinity. In homage to a certain gothic novel our professor (a specialist) is teaching, a questionable project is attempted. The tone of this story is intense parody of that gothic genre, and is completely hilarious. I enjoyed it very much.

Molly Giles’ “Pie Dance,” read by Kate Burton, presents a change of pace. An woman narrates a visit from her ex-husband’s new wife, and the story that unfolds is complicated, multi-layered, and thought-provoking; a person could listen to (or read) this story several time looking for the little clues. It is a real piece of artistry, and very funny to boot, behaving like a fun and entertaining piece and only creeping up as a more complex one. This story is certainly one of the strongest points of this collection. On the other hand, Ana Menendez’s “Story of a Parrot,” read by Jacqueline Kim, is a different kind of literary undertaking, featuring a Cuban couple relocated to Florida, where they do not get along as the wife dreams of a missed stage career. It is dreamy and gauzy, and though intriguing in many ways, it didn’t come together perfectly for me.

Max Steele’s “The Cat and the Coffee Drinkers,” read by Paul Hecht, was another fun one, told by a former student of Miss Effie’s kindergarten, which is very much a nontraditional classroom. It has its moments of poignancy and the opportunity for serious points, but overall is easily appreciated for its tongue-in-cheek humor.

But the best by far was the story that brought me to this collection in the first place: Gail Godwin’s “St. George,” read in fine form by Jane Curtin. A lonely and socially awkward medieval scholar cracks an egg to discover a tiny but very real dragon. Her attempts to raise it up are a comedy of errors, fanciful and hilarious and perfectly portrayed (of course) by Curtin. This story was riotous and smart, and offered a surprising final solution; it also exemplifies the way a short story can be a nicely encapsulated literary experience in miniature, where structure is so important. I’m glad I sought out “St. George” and will have to keep my eyes open for Godwin.

Each of these stories ran 20-30 minutes, a great format for short listening opportunities and one I’ll look for again. Every one was not equally outstanding, but I am pleased.

Rating: 8 pearls.

(Collections are hard. “St. George” would have gone 8 or 9, and the Lassie story maybe a 6. But it was good fun all around.)

2 Responses

  1. I’ve only ever listened to some of the stories on “Food Shorts” — I’m tempted by these pet stories, esp. the Godwin. May have to get this…..

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