Thursday, May 19, 2011

Short Story Month Giveaway: Love Doesn't Work by Henning Koch

This week, I'm celebrating short stories with giveaways and thoughts about short fiction by participating authors.  Join me each day as I pay tribute to National Short Story Month, a movement which has snowballed since the first efforts by Larry Dark and Dan Wickett to give overdue national attention to short stories.  For details on how to enter today's contest, scroll to the bottom of this post.  For more bloggers participating in Short Story Month giveaways, be sure to visit this page at Fiction Writers Review.

Today's book is Love Doesn't Work by Henning Koch from Dzanc Books (whose publisher is the aforementioned super-cool dude* Dan Wickett).  In this self-interview at The Nervous Breakdown, Koch talks to himself about the collection of short stories:
Why is your next book entitled Love Doesn’t Work?  Do you not believe in love?
Yes, I believe in love, it is one of the strongest forces in the world. I just don’t believe in so many of our ideas about it. Love isn’t the answer, love is the question. Did someone else say that? Either way, this seems to get closer to the truth than a bunch of roses on Valentine’s Day. As a culture we seem in love with idealism; but idealism is an easy fix and has a tendency to spill into cruelty.  The title of my book actually took its inspiration from the idea that life, and love, are subject to earthbound limitations. Humans are not gods and life is fairly short.  There is an old adage that no one is more disappointed than a lapsed idealist. I admire many idealists but some of them strike me as idiotic. What we need are not wild ideas based on misconceptions. We need intelligent, reasonable aims backed up by intention.  I am not rationalising here, I am observing. Okay?
I don't have a copy of Love Doesn't Work in front of me right now, so I can't speak for the actual content of the stories, but I appreciate writing that is at once heady and down-to-earth--which, by all appearances, seems to be the case with Koch's collection.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
     Enduring her jet-set life in Sardinia, a woman has learnt to sublimate her erotic longings caused by her husband's impotence, until a visitor offers a more immediate solution.
     A claustrophobic banker fears the destruction of his relationship when he discovers a yawning hole beneath the streets of Stockholm.
     The arrival of a gorgeous Russian piano prodigy inspires a screenwriter to look beyond his treadmill London existence.
     And while fixing a leaking toilet in the wilds of Sweden, Ingmar Bergman explains the predicament of lovers in a hostile world.
     Love Doesn't Work offers classic storytelling with profound, startling insights into human desire and its shortfalls. Inspired by the ancient Cathars, these seven tales present a vision of life as an inevitable struggle against ignorance, darkness and sexual confusion.  Devilish and playful in tone, they leave the reader with a sense of outraged satisfaction and delight.
Ingmar Bergman fixing a toilet?  Koch's Love bears looking into...

About the Author:  Henning Koch's writing started with screenplays.  Between 2002 and 2007, he worked as a translator and dramaturge for Yellow Bird Films, makers of Henning Mankell's Wallander series for television/cinema in Scandinavia, Germany and the UK.  In 2005, Koch moved to Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, where he spent three years writing the short story collection Love Doesn't Work and the novel The Maggot People (forthcoming September 2012).

A Few Words On The Short Story

When F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby failed to sell, he wrote to a friend, "It was too short.  Remember this.  Never write a book under 60,000 words."  Yet surely we are now beginning to realise that long books can bore the pants off us.  Does Jonathan Franzen's Freedom really need to weigh in at almost 600 pages?  Perhaps a fat book makes the consumer more willing to spend fifteen dollars, like buying a big bunch of bananas at a knock-down price?

When I pick up a short story by the very concise English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, or one by Lydia Davis, I feel I am imbibing a concentrated essence, a spoonful of honey: something written by a person with a brain.  Short stories, as the critic Edmund Morton once wrote, have the ability to create interesting patterns rather than humdrum plots.  O. Henry, one of the most outstanding of all short story writers, was writing flash fiction before the term was even invented.  There is nothing newfangled about short fiction.  Even Baudelaire tried his hand at it.

The great virtue of short stories is that they get to the point.  Who really wants to think about a person's dental records and nail clippings--or what they did next?  Surely it is more captivating to be in the moment?  Plots are all very well, but ultimately we all die: The End.

Long-windedness should never be mistaken for profundity.

The factual distinction between long and short fiction is that one of them uses more words.  Nothing else.  But there is an undeniable difference, relating to the reader's expectations.  A novel demands investment, a dutiful toiling at the coalface night after night, fighting back tiredness to finish another page and reach the end of another chapter.  The novel is supposed to entertain and move us.  It has to be worth all that hard work.  Strange, then, that many of our best-known writers have expressed a sneaking regard for television.  The late David Foster Wallace once said that commercial entertainment and "its sheer ability to deliver pleasure in large doses…changes people's relationship to art" and then confessed that "I don't read a lot of avant-garde fiction now because it is hellaciously unfun."  Norman Mailer claimed that The Sopranos might be considered the cultural successor to the "Great American Novel."

There is a lot of confessing going on here, and so I am hoping that we are entering a new age in our reading habits.  Once we start downloading books directly into our e-readers, surely we won't care anymore if they are long and important or short and pithy?  We'll try out stories by Ellen Miller, Philip Ó Ceallaigh, Laura van den Berg and Josip Novakovich.  We'll sit down to Daphne du Maurier, whose story "The Birds" was evocative enough to unfold into one of Hitchcock's greatest films.

Roberto Bolaño, having penned the amazing 900-page novel 2666 which by all accounts is a classic work, nevertheless considered his 78-page Antwerp--a collection of prose poems and flash fiction--"the only novel that doesn't embarrass me."

Then again, I would not shorten 2666 by a single word.  In spite of its enormous length, even wordiness, I seemed to reach the end almost before I started.

Briefly: if writing has soul and wit, one does not care if it gets there in ten pages or a thousand.

*     *     *

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of Love Doesn't Work, send an email to with "Henning Koch" in the subject line.  Please include your mailing address in the body of the email.  This contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (sorry, we can't ship to addresses with P.O. boxes).  One entry per person per book (yes, you can enter the drawings for each book during Short Story Week, but each entry must be sent separately).  The contest remains open until May 31, at which time I'll draw the winners of each day's giveaway.

*I hope I'm not lowering his dignity by saying that, but really Dan is one of the hardest-working champions of literature you'll ever meet.

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