Short Story Month: The White Road and Other Stories

Concluding a series of posts for Short Story Month, a review of The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman.

Beginning with a café in Antarctica, nothing at first seems more otherworldly than this slim collection of stories. Yet soon it becomes apparent that no matter where the stories take us--from the polar ice caps to a casino in Vegas to the interior of a spaceship--one thing remains a constant: the narratives are defined by the pull of human longings, ephemeral voices clamoring to be heard.

Often inspired by articles from The New Scientist, the sometimes extremely short stories in Tania Hershman's The White Road and Other Stories use scientific principles as a springboard into an exploration of human emotions and dilemmas.

For example, in the title story, the "white road" is that which winds through the Antarctic; the main character is a wisecracking woman from southern United States who runs a café for visitors. But beneath her tough exterior, the café owner has a dark secret that has drawn her to live at the end of the world, and to find a solution to the plague of her memories.

Some of the stories are no more than a paragraph, and could be quoted here in their entirety if it were not a violation of copyright. Yet they contain the emotional complexity and depth that one would expect in much longer fiction; in this regard, the stories are like poems. My personal favorite, Plaits, is a portrait of a romance and marriage, told with such clever nuance that the reader is pulled deep into the intertwining complexities of the relationship, a welter of feelings, even in what amounts to a couple hundred words. Line by line, the language is beautiful, building a silent symphony of images, rhythms and characters' unique voices. In such short fiction--as in a poem--every word is made to count all the more.

Some of the stories are funny, such as Space Fright. On the one hand, it is a story set in the future, when people will presumably fly spaceships with the ease that we now drive cars. On the other hand, it's a hilarious depiction of a date gone wrong--a date that just happens to take place in outer space.

As he floats helplessly near the ceiling, having lost control of the technology,

"Bill felt like he might cry. How long had it taken him to get this woman--any woman, for pity's sake--to take a spin in his new XCOR 5000, which had extra comfort features and a dual spin turbo backdrift with built-in stabilizers; how many times had he run through his space seduction scenario ('look at the view of the cosmos' - slide arm around shoulders; 'doesn't it make you feel small and insignificant?' - go in for the kiss)?" (page 19)

A remarkable thing about The White Road and Other Stories is that for all that there are over twenty stories in this collection, each character possesses a distinct voice, molded by childhood histories and informed with deep-rooted desires and loves. Where the story concepts begin with science, fiction becomes a laboratory for examining the most intimate secrets of the human heart.