Johanna Skibsrud - This Will be Difficult to Explain and other stories (2 stars)

Johanna Skibsrud - This Will be Difficult to Explain and other stories

Short story collection fails to meet the medium's strict demands

(Heinemann)

Time is not on the short story’s side. There are no leisurely chapters in which to manufacture a slow build to a devastating denouement; no space to take us on a character’s full-length journey. To succeed, therefore, a short story has to do one of three things (or, if it’s really clever, all three): hit the reader with an unexpected reveal; leave us somehow changed; or wrap us in the warmth of beautifully crafted sentences.

Johanna Skibsrud does all of these things, but only once or twice. And over a collection of nine stories, that just isn’t enough. The surprise ending of ‘Clarence’ keeps you hooked; the realisation of an American ex-pat in Paris that life is essentially the same no matter where you live is touching; and occasionally, Skibsrud hits us with a killer line. But you dive into most of these stories and re-emerge with none of the water clinging to you. It’s almost as if you’ve never been there at all.

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