A couple of commenters on my post Sunday about short stories took up the topic of “linked” collections, and how publishers and readers might favor them because they have a “unity” of tone and (sometimes) plot. I’m fine with the structure when it works—in, say Vincent Lam‘s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures or the linked sets of stories in Amy Bloom‘s Where the God of Love Hangs Out—less so when it’s hokum like Elizabeth Strout‘s Olive Kitteridge. But it’s worth remembering that the linked collection isn’t a new concept that publishers have whipped up in the past few years. Ernest Hemingway‘s posthumous 1972 collection, The Nick Adams Stories, has just been translated into Hebrew, giving Israeli writer Uzi Weil an opportunity to expound in Haaretz on the book, which he calls “the most elusive book and the simplest book I have ever read.” Weil’s prose gets a little humid, but this passage gets at why the linked collection works for him:
Between one story and another there is so much that is unsaid. That doesn’t need to be said. But the stories themselves sparkle in the light of truth, leaving you no choice but to fill in with your imagination, with your own heart and soul, what is unsaid. And this act of completion is what makes reading the Nick Adams stories so very, very different. Because it appears to be a novel about the life of a man, from childhood to adulthood. But unlike any novel ever written, it depicts the points before and after the “important points.” It doesn’t tell you what happened to Nick and his wife. You fill that in yourself. It’s like he’s saying: What does it matter, just what happened exactly? That’s what you call “the tyranny of the plot.” Forget “the plot.” Come, let me tell you about a certain moment in a hotel, a year after his love died.
It’s been so long since I’ve read any Hemingway—and I recall reading only a handful of the Nick Adams stories—that I can’t comment on how successfully he pulled any of that off. For what it’s worth, at the time it was published, the New York Times didn’t seem to think much of this linked-stories business. Richard R. Lingeman concluded his review by writing: “Nick Adams unites them in name only and the best of the stories stand alone, not as links in a chain. ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ neither add nor detract from Hemingway’s memory, and it is good to have a collection of the good ones, but this present arrangement does not create any new synergism.”