Some say the short story collection is a dying form, unsellable and therefore unpublishable. The money’s in the novel, those people say. Nevertheless, countless writers over the course of literary history have pulled off the waning form and broken into the literary mainstream by bridging the gap between collections of independent narratives and what we call the “novel”—notable examples being Maxine Hong Kingston with her debut Warrior Woman and pre-Pulitzer Junot Díaz with Drown. Both books are collections of stories, but the stories in each collection, when compared with each other, construct distinct emotional worlds—representing to the reader more than the scene-exposition basics of a traditional narrative and more than character- or plot- or setting-based narratives; rather, a rounded and comprehensive glimpse into the mechanism of humanity itself. It’s in these connections and mergers that literature grows, develops, and thrives—the connections of narrative forms, aesthetics, and thematic underpinnings is what drives the world of reading and writing into the future.
A writer that steps up to the plate of merging the short story collection with the novel is Kazuo Ishiguro, whose most recent book Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall pushes how we think of connection by presenting five pieces of varying length that all deal with music and the conflicted individual. Ishiguro connects these five stories, however, with more than just thematic similarities. For example, a minor character in “Crooner” is the unhappy wife of a has-been famous singer; in “Nocturnes,” she is a major character that shares a mischievous adventure in an expensive hotel where she stays next door to a struggling jazz saxophonist after they both undergo facial cosmetic surgery.
The strongest characteristic of Nocturnes is the complex stories that Ishiguro crafts and the complex manner in which he crafts them—he continuously moves in and out of a linear narrative, seamlessly drifting between the real-time plot and reminiscence. In this manner, he effectively reconstructs a sense of nostalgia that echoes the jazz music he writes about and plagues the characters he creates. His composition is witty, precise, and honest, his dialogue is authentic, and his characters are familiar. Ishiguro has long ago proved himself a contender, and this simple, extraordinary collection is Kazuo Ishiguro at his finest.
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