On Tuesday 6 April we reconvened at the Arches to discuss Tony's latest offering, a short story entitled 'Kerry's Fleece'. The short story isn't a genre with which I'm overly familiar, and I asked myself what the point of a short story should be. To entertain, certainly; to inform, perhaps. These, however, are essential to all genres of fiction.
So why the short story? Annie told us that a successful short story is 'something you can read in under an hour and remember for a lifetime'.
Tony's short stories tend to act like the telephoto lense of a camera, bringing clarity, colour and detail to incidents that might otherwise be considered to be inconsequential. His writing is well constructed and controlled, his command of grammar, punctuation, description and dialogue assured. Nevertheless while I was reading, Kerry's Fleece, I found myself longing for him to abandon some of that control. I feel somehow that he tends to hold himself back when he writes, and the real Tony, the insightful and humorous Tony who appears at SVA meetings, is either subconsciously or deliberately kept separate from his prose.
Tony has an eye for descriptive detail, but I felt that Jason's encounter with an attractive teenager that led to an afternoon drinking session in her parents' house might have been given more psychological and sexual tension, perhaps by the inclusion of more dialogue between the protagonists, and the strong potential for humour in a scene depicting the gradual inebriation of two people was largely ignored.
Rob felt although that the story had a beginning and a middle, the end was anti-climatic and required a better resolution. 'Are you wondering why I've enticed you here?' (Kerry) would provide an unexpected change in the dynamic of the story and set up a final twist. Annie suggested that the unexpected reappearance of Kerry's parents from their holiday and finding their daughter in flagrante would have provided a more dramatic ending. The story ends instead with the sentence ' So Kerry put the peanuts in a little pan and warmed them through on the Aga and they ate hot nuts and drank wine as the sun went down.' The question uppermost in both Jason's and the reader's mind - whether Kerry is a nice girl, a seductress or manipulative - is left unanswered.
We all picked up on the allusion to Jason and the Golden Fleece, but we were unable to understand the point of it. In the legend of the Argonauts Jason trades the golden fleece for a kingdom and Linda wondered if Jason wanted a nice rich girl as the price for getting her fleece back for her.
Tony explained that the point was contained in that last sentence. The story is, of course, about 'Jason and the Aga nuts'. We all groaned. All successful puns should make one groan, but is a single pun powerful enough to provide the raison d'etre of a short story? Rob pointed out that the danger of this approach is that if readers don't get the pun, they won't get the point of the story. Although the pun deserves inclusion, the story needs to have an alternative raison d'etre than to provide a groan at the end.