One of my favorite teachers, Sister Matthew Byrne, from my Grade 10 year, taught history and literature. She was an actor in her own way as well, one who could make a short story or an historical event come to life with her performance in front of the classroom.
My favourite memory of Sister involves the short story The Sniper by Liam O'Flaherty. Set in Ireland during the Civil War or the front of the classroom, the sniper, or a middle aged nun, was perched with a rifle, or yardstick, on a roof top in Dublin, or behind a desk. The nun's veil, lifted forward over her head, mimicked the cap worn by the sniper. How could any student forget that presentation?
Over the years, I have tried numerous times to embrace the short story genre, each time without success. Some fellow book club members feel the same about short stories, finding them unfulfilling, wanting the development of characters and plot which come with a novel.
Then there is Alice Munro. Alice takes the short story to a whole other dimension in a rural Canadian setting. She is similar in age to my mother and writes of a time I know through my own life and my mother's. However, she has an economy of words, each one crafted to the story and explores life in a way which is universal. Her last collection of stories, Dear Life, has made me a fan of the genre.
Munro's Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013 was well deserved. Her work is accessible to every reader, but challenges us to look beyond the story for the learning of a lifetime. After reading dear Munro, I will approach short stories differently. However, when you know the best, others may pale in comparison.