The cover artwork of Helen Keeling-Marston’s Two Hundred Very Short Stories, illustrates the frustration, chaos and struggle sometimes involved with trying to finish reading a book. The piles of abandoned texts, held in place by very familiar dismissals like “Yes, I’ll read this one on the train to work” and “It’s fine, I can finish it later”, symbolise how for many of us, it is becoming increasingly difficult, being consumed by daily life, to enjoy a book from start to finish.
As an English Literature student, I am so regularly swamped with course reading that I rarely have time to read for leisure. When the chance does occasionally arise, I find that when I hopelessly try and return to page 337 of 892 of a novel, I spend a fair amount of time trying to work out why the main character is at a seemingly random wedding! It is precisely this reason: being strapped for time, that Helen, a first-time author, decided to write this book.
“He was paralysed. His eyes were rolling and his throat had narrowed. But he came through it. Just as he always did. Just as he and over seven billion other people always did every time they woke up.” Story 117, pp. 112
This collection’s mix of flash-fiction and short stories take the reader on a tumultuous, rather erratic, emotional journey. Do not be fooled into thinking that the short length of the narratives is a reflection of the quality of them, though. The stories vary in length from a few pages to a few words and each of them, are intricate enough to take you on a journey that will make you think about the multiple layers of meaning within them, long after having read them.
The way in which Helen’s placement of the narratives, in a random order, with some evoking a smile and a laugh and others laced with a deep sense of irony is what makes this book such an interesting read. From story two, about a tooth fairy with questionable morals, to story 20 about the Earth, to story 129 about dog domestics, there is something for everyone. All 200 stories in this book can indeed be read in one sitting and some can even be completed in about 30 seconds. Whether you have a break between lectures or are looking for a light read before bed, this is definitely a manageable, worthwhile read!