By Julian Barnes
ISBN No. 978-0-307-35961-2
Fans of the long form in fiction who were outraged (outraged, I tell you!) that Julian Barnes won big prizes for the surprisingly slim “The Sense of an Ending” might want to sit down when they read this: his new (and eagerly awaited follow-up) “Pulse” is more of the same - many times over.
It’s a collection of short stories.
Certainly stories that span a mere dozen pages are easier to write. At that length the author can make sure characters and metaphors stay where they’re supposed to; that intent and execution are equally obvious – to both writer and reader. These days who in their right mind wants to bend and twist a sprawling 300+ page narrative into something meaningful for an Everyman whose attention span lasts as long as the latest viral video?
In “Pulse” metaphors and story arcs are kept in check, and serious readers of serious fiction will be hard pressed to find any disappointments – or errors. (Indeed, in “East Wind” I had an “A-ha!” moment when Barnes switched from second to third person – until I realized it was a conceit of the story’s narrator, not a mistake of the author.) Instead, we’re lucky enough to be in the company of a master storyteller. “At Phil & Joanna’s 1: 60/40” is all painfully cajoling dialogue. In “Gardeners’ World” the complacent commitment of a marriage is compared with the construction of a backyard garden. And so it goes. Each story is quite, and quietly, remarkable, if only because these days the public has to wade through so much to get to so little that’s meaningful – in their lives, at the workplace, in culture. Barnes has written a book that’s both indicative and anecdotal for our internet age: a collection of one-offs, a book of small miracles of writing.