Sometimes I daydream about putting together an anthology of my favorite short stories, kind of like a mix tape. Over the course of my blogging duties, I’m going to discuss a few of the stories that—from my experience—aren’t as familiar to readers.
Whether it’s writing issues or life issues, I have given “Dinosaur” to more people than I can count. It’s a tiny sliver of a thing: a couple of paragraphs, less than three hundred words. Yet in that small space, Bruce Holland Rogers accomplishes everything that a short story writer, or a writer of any ilk, should aspire to: there’s an emotional conflict as well as an external conflict, a clean arc, a precision of language and economy of words that’s incredible.
When I give “Dinosaur” out to classes, there’s always a moment of skepticism, and then, once we’ve finished reading it aloud, which takes no time at all, there’s a silence that follows. People, I think, stand in awe of this accomplishment. That initial glance sets them up to think the story is of the same size, when in fact it’s much, much larger; “Dinosaur” is a ship in a bottle that suddenly launches out to sea and proves entirely seaworthy. When I feel overwhelmed by the size and shape of my own work, I reread “Dinosaur” (or Steve Almond’s “Nixon Swims”). Thinking of things on the small scale enables me to strip all the excess away and see what’s truly alive.
The most amazing thing, and perhaps the story’s best lesson, comes from the constant movement. There’s no pause while the author waits for the reader to catch up; the transitions are clear but invisible. The line, “It seemed a good idea to make money, what with falling in love and thinking about raising a family,” gives us the protagonist’s adult life in one sentence as well as his attitude about it. Any lingering cuteness, which could easily be the story’s downfall, is rendered moot by the sadness of the ending.
And with these words, this post is officially longer than the story itself. Incredible, isn’t it?