The Gift of a Great Short Read


There is nothing quite like the gift of a great short story.  It is quick to read, yet sometimes rolls around your mind like a sip of wine should roll around your mouth, and lingers in places long ago forgotten.

Yesterday, I finished reading Bantam Books‘ publication of How Beautiful With Shoes, by Wilbur Daniel Steele. I had randomly flipped to this story in the collection of 50 Great Short Stories and didn’t think I’d read past a paragraph or two.  But the imagery of the first line grabbed onto my heart and I kept reading on and on.  I’d quote the first line, but it was long enough you’d be upset with me for not being able to go on from there.  Steele dragged my apathetic mind into his story with simplicity and grace.

Steele’s main character is Amarantha, a special needs woman living on a farm with her mother.  He doesn’t use any specially disjointed dialog or description of Down Syndrome’s almond-shaped eyes.  He doesn’t use school bullies or special teachers to highlight the girl’s differences.  In fact, Amarantha’s thoughts are as deep and complex as yours or mine.  We only know she’s special needs because Steele describes her from an omniscient point of view as “slow-minded.”

I love how at first I was drawn into the odd details that short stories are known for.  The descriptions of “bare, barn-soiled feet” and “it sounded sullen only because it was matter of fact.” Steele hints of Amarantha’s (Mare or Mary to the townsfolk) life as a special needs woman living on a farm as plain, simple and being used by the only man who would have her before he makes a right turn with his reader and has her captured by a crazed man with a poetic bent, and who sees in Amarantha something she isn’t–something like an angel.

I won’t spoil what happens for you.  I myself am a reader who loves a short story to have a plot line that’s easy to follow and How Beautiful With Shoes does follow a good, strong plot.

But the glory of a good short tale is the need for the reader to fill in gaps with his or her own thoughts.  It isn’t generally structured to have a main conflict, goals and resolutions.  I like how with shorts, you are often left wondering if the story really could have ended differently.  You wonder if, while the story ended well, did it end right by your own moral standards?

And a good story will invite you, with its gaps, to come back time and again to dip into its depths and find something new about the most important question: who are you in all of this?

Think I’ll let you go.  I’m going to revisit Amarantha, her deaf mother and her two lovers. Delicious.

Title: How Beautiful With Shoes (within 50 Great Short Stories)
Author: Wilbur Daniel Steele
Pages: 22 (the collection has 571)
Publisher: Bantam Classics

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