White Tiger on Snow Mountain by David Gordon
I've always believed that short stories are far too under-appreciated. However, I continue to live in hope that since Alice Munro received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature for her career of writing only short stories, more people will become interested in and have respect for this format. I'm pleased to say that David Gordon's book reminded me just how fascinating the art of short stories can be.
To begin with, Gordon's stories are somewhat linked, which makes them feel that together they almost become a novel. For instance, in one story, he talks about the protagonist deciding to quit smoking, then in the next story one of the characters is an ex-smoker about to light up, only to toss it after one puff in disgust. This happens also with his protagonists being not always successful recovering alcoholics. Furthermore, almost all of his narrators are struggling writers, with failing or recently failed relationships and all of them happen to be Jewish. Ironically, Gordon's seemingly casual relationship to his own religion of birth (apparent through a tiny mistake) comes into play the most with the story "I, Gentile."
The exceptions to this rule are the three stories with a younger protagonist. Gordon conveniently places these one after the other, and in chronological order of the protagonist's age, so we feel the connections in these stories. They also differ in their writing style from the other stories in the book. While most of Gordon's stories range from blunt to acerbic, here he begins with a type of softness to his language. Interestingly, as the boy in these tales gets older, Gordon's gentler touch becomes increasingly harsh. This works so well that if this book had been a novel, these stories would have been the flashback section.
But this isn't a novel, and despite the many interconnections, Gordon obviously doesn't want you to think of them as one cohesive work. What he does want you to do is look at these worlds through lenses tinted with no small amount of wit for extra clarity, in order to see just how unflattering it really is. This isn't to say that these stories are funny, although they will garner a guffaw from time to time. In fact, overall, they're gritty, somewhat grim and in places border on being pornographic. However, the humor Gordon injected into them was able to smooth over most of the roughness and keep them from being too depressing or ugly. Even so, I would have appreciated a bit more mockery of some of the situations, if only to lighten up the darker parts.
If I had to sum this collection of short stories up in one sentence, I'd use this quote from Ingmar Bergman's 1961 Oscar winning film "Through a Glass Darkly" when the character Karin says: "It's so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it." Except that with these stories, Gordon tries to see both the terrible and the funny sides of his confusion, and doesn't always succeed in understanding it all. That, of course, is the beauty of the short story. It takes you on this short ride and drops you off somewhere that you're unfamiliar with, and the author doesn't give you instructions on how to get home. Gordon gets this, and even makes the reader feel that despite any inconclusiveness, each story is complete. For all this, I have to warmly recommend this collection and give it four out of five stars.
"White Tiger on Snow Mountain" by David Gordon is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), as well as new or used from Alibris or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reader's copy of this book for review via NetGalley. (A version of this review originally appeared on my Times of Israel Blog.)