Wednesday, August 17, 2011

19, by Aaron Patterson

I love Amazon’s Kindle Singles.  The short story is, unfortunately, a dying art.  Edgar Allen Poe was a proponent of short fiction, actually claiming that the form was better than any other was from a literary standpoint.  I agree with that, and I find it sad that today most authors follow a path of writing short stories in order to establish themselves in journals so they can sell novels as they gain acceptance and an audience.  Unfortunately, that usually means the short stories leave a lot to be desired.

Thankfully, Aaron Patterson does not fall into this category.  “19” is a well-crafted short story, complete with a tightly woven plot, a well-crafted setting, and characters that follow Stephen King’s regular person stuck in extraordinary circumstances rule.  It makes for a great read.  The basic premise of the story revolves around a woman who finds special significance in the number nineteen.  No, it’s not an original concept.  Yes, there have been about a bazillion books giving significance to a specific number in a character’s life.  No, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.  Read this short story.

Patterson has an ability (you can see it in all of his novels, but it is remarkable to get it done within the confines of a short story) to make his characters believable and normal even in extraordinary circumstances.  Take a look at this:

Elvis ended his tribute to Christmas and I lit another pine tree candle and heard the chipmunks come on. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Alvin and the chipmunks sing Christmas carols. I walked to the front window, looked out through the thick falling snow, and saw Ben lying on his back twitching in the snow, shovel thrown to one side and my heart leaped into my throat—I screamed.

This really is good.  At first, the simplicity of the passage belies the brilliance of it.  In three sentences, the reader hears Elvis fade away, smells pine-scented candles, hears Alvin telling Santa not to be late, gets a horrible image of a dying man, and screams along with the character.  You cannot help but be engaged when Patterson writes.
Amazon occasionally offers this story (and others like it) free, but do yourself a favor and take a look at other Aaron Patterson books as well.

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