Everyman’s Library edition of Kafka’s collection of short stories begs for a clear definition of the term short story. Some of the entries were as short as 180 words. One titled The Trees was a mere 4 sentences – 45 words – more like a snippet of flash fiction.
This compilation of “short stories” does include some of Kafka’s most famous work, The Metamorphosis – a fable about a man who one day wakes to find himself transformed into a spider, The Judgement, The Stoker and In the Penal Colony. The stories published while Kafka was still alive are much more impressive than those published (against his wishes) after his death. Oddly, he had a penchant for writing from the perspective of an animal. Aside from his spider story he also provides a canine point of view in Investigations of a Dog, a mole in The Burrow, and an ape in A Report to an Academy which are some of the longest of his short stories.
Although Kafka was undoubtedly a gifted writer – as proven in his unfinished novels The Castle and The Trial – most of his short stories (pardon the pun) fall short. They are abstract, inanimate, and lack human interest. At least his novels, on the other hand, offer unique character development and an overt emphasis on issues to which one can relate. But in many of his short stories and flash fiction tidbits, it is obvious from his choice of subjects and the painful interaction of his characters (or altogether lack of same) that life was a struggle for Kafka.
I find it interesting that Kafka lived in the same times as Marcel Proust. In fact, they had much in common. Kafka was Jewish. Proust was half Jewish but neither one took their religion very seriously. They both suffered poor health and social anxiety, never married, and died prematurely… Kafka at age 41, Proust at 51. Neither lived to experience the appreciation of their contribution to literature or saw fame in their lifetime. They both had an exceptional ability to convey a mood, describe a scene, and mesmerize the reader with their stories. Kakfa’s style became known as Kafkaesque while Proust’s admirers coined the adjective Proustian.
There is however, quite a difference in their styles. While Kafka wrote in stark definitive sentences about surreal incidents and absurd unsettling experiences, Proust wrote beautiful prose, romantic, humorous, and passionate about real life. And while people complain about Proust’s paragraph-long sentences and page-long paragraphs, I clearly prefer that to Kafka’s eccentric rambling. Proust might have been a whiner, but Kafia was definitely a defeatist. At times the Kafka stories spew irrational distress and inconsolable social angst. His existentialist philosophy can be contemplated intellectually, but sadly, it often leaves the reader in an emotional void.
Rated 3 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish. Books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.