“When Giraffes Flew” shows promise, but the short stories are too many, too short
All the best short stories have a moment of truth — the Flannery O’Connor moment. It’s a hard art to master, and many of those who are accomplished in other literary forms never do (Kurt Vonnegut, as much as his novels are full of truth, never fully figured it out). But those lucky few who can weave truth into their stories are head-and-shoulders above the rest.
There’s something of that in When Giraffes Flew. It’s unrefined, sure, but there’s a grain of that Flannery O’Connor moment; a grain which could easily develop into something bigger with a little work. This problem probably stems from their length. The fictions are no more than 10 pages, making for a dense read each time (some are even less than one page).
There’s a tiny story in the book — an anecdote really — about two poets: one who writes much too fast, the other who writes much too slowly. Jeff Weddle, to my eyes, suffers from the former problem. Though his stories contain that kernel of greatness, they’re too short to be able to pop that kernel. Moreover, there’s a huge number of these incredibly short stories. Taken individually, they’re wonderful. Taken as a whole, the collection is exhausting.
That’s not to say they’re not good; the stories of When Giraffes Flew brim with vitality — its characters suggest rich inner lives, its plots neither the end nor the beginning, its material honest and raw. It’s a shame that so many seem abbreviated (not all — there’s a few that are damn near perfect in and of themselves).
Part of this seems to be their setting. From Faulkner to Capote, the American South has imbued writers with a certain calling. Indeed, Weddle writes of the South in all its naked glory (and the reverse: clothed shame). With stories about incest in Christ to stories about small-town corruption, When Giraffes Flew refuses to shy away from the South.
It also refuses to shy away from itself, and what went on in its making. Two of the stories are explicitly homages to (what I can only assume to be) Weddle’s inspirations — a story called “A Simple Enquiry” about an author named Borges in, quite ironically, a Kafkaesque situation and another called “Faulkner and Pete”, a quiet meditation on death (in a straightforward enough manner). By diverting from the author’s style even in homage, Weddle acknowledges his predecessors while setting himself apart.
When When Giraffes Flew is good, it’s brilliant. And when it’s bad, it’s decent. I consider that to be a good book. I just wish an editor had trimmed out some of the weaker stories and fleshed out the stronger ones.