I've never been a fan of short stories. I read Maupassant's Boule de Suif at school. At uni I discovered Ian McEwan and consumed everything he'd written with the kind of gluttony that adult, non-student, life will never allow. Generally though, I dismissed short stories as inconsequential. Either I read one and shrugged 'so what?' or I found one I enjoyed and wanted more. Either way I was unsatisfied.
It was only the OU writing course that got me thinking about the art of short story writing. I gathered short story collections, read William Trevor, Edna O'Brien, Malcolm Bradbury. Many short stories still leave me with that 'so what?' feeling, but I am learning, at least, to understand their opportunities and constraints and to admire the form. One or two stories have lingered in my memory, insinuating themselves into my consciousness in the way that good writing should. Beryl Bainbridge's Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie is one such story. It begins with a patronising gift of pantomime tickets. Through a family's response to the gift and the pantomime itself Bainbridge deftly shows the tensions between the family members. The ending is pitch perfect but I don't want to give it away - you might want to read it sometime.
Joyce Carol Oates' A Hole in the Head is far from understated, but boy does it suck you in. The end is dramatic, outrageous even, but somehow seems a natural progression. The initial fastidiousness of the main character makes his undoing all the more appalling. I won't expand, but I would advise you against plastic surgery of any kind.
So, whilst I still don't rush to pick up a volume of short stories, perhaps there's something to be said for them after all.