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

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

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

(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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