Egg in My Beer: Reading Short Stories for Long Satisfaction

composition with stack of books
composition with stack of books

"Egg in the beer" is slang for benefit, asset, boon. Great short stories offer egg in my beer, providing keen satisfaction and lasting impact with the draw of one long swallow. While a novel may take the full bottle of wine (or, for some books, a gallon of the hard stuff), a short story is, by definition, a shorter draught -- I sit in my chair, open the latest collection, and 10 or 20 minutes later, I have been to another place and back again. I might be crying or laughing, stunned into speechlessness or bubbling with ideas that I have to share, right now. I've had my egg in the beer and I like it, a lot.

A boon of short story collections has come out over the past months and I've been drinking up. In A Place in Time, Wendell Berry once again (this is his 10th volume in the series) centers his stories around the mythical Port William on the banks of the Kentucky River. He roams through the past hundred or so years, focusing in on individual situations up and down the fields and hills of the small community. Each story stands alone in its beauty and simplicity, but taken all together, Berry has created a quilt illustrating universal truths about family, community, sorrow, loss, and resilience.

The stories in Joan Wickersham's The News from Spain are connected not through place but through a recurring phrase, "the news from Spain;" love stories unravel across continents, friendships disintegrate and reinvigorate, families topple and reconnect, and although the mood is often somber, the lasting impact is one of hope: adaptability ensures survival, and connection makes survival worthwhile. Wickersham is an elegant and acute writer, and a joy to read.

In his latest collection of stories, titled Tenth of December, George Saunders exercises his talent at pharmacology (Vivistif, Verbaluce, Veritalk) and psychoanalysis, rendering the inner secrets, dreams, and lives of the hapless and the unlucky in stories that stun, tickle, and stimulate, again and again. We are all weirdoes, under Saunders' kind yet exacting eye, and oh how beautiful is our weirdness.

Emma Donoghue's Astray is a marvel of imagination, in which Donoghue utilizes items she's found over the years -- news clippings, photos, letters -- to create unforgettable stories about change: the moving from one place to another, either of mind or of geography, a migration that might be forced or might be chosen, but that leads, for a time, to a sense of being led astray. The past is gone, the future unknown, and the present a journey -- and never an easy one.

Junot Diaz explores loss in story after story in his collection, This Is How You Lose Her. An accumulation of pain and sorrow, the stories nonetheless underscore the permanence of love. Loss cannot matter without love, and with love, so much -- even loss -- can be endured.

Pull up a chair, draw a beer, and throw in the egg of inspiration: In other words, find a quiet place to read and open up a book of short stories. The satisfaction will last longer, much longer, than any beer (egged or not).