The Mountain by Paul Yoon

mountain.jpgI’m starting to think audio is just not the format for me for short stories, because this is the third story collection I’ve read on audio and been thoroughly underwhelmed by. I loved Paul Yoon’s first story collection, Once the Shore, but I found this one hard to access.

The stories in this collection range across time and place, and they all deal with displacement, trauma, and loneliness. They’re mostly concerned with the years following WWII, although some stretch forward in time. From a camera factory in Shanghai to a Hudson Valley sanatorium, from the Russian and French countryside to a luxury inn in the UK in modern times, Yoon’s characters, marked by loss, tragedy, loneliness, and trauma, are all seeking, though they rarely seem to find.

The prose is gorgeous and the characters all felt very real. Yoon’s imagery is rich, and the stories themselves were easy to get lost in. They were meandering, thoughtful and sad, and I found myself, with each new story, slowing sinking into its world. Yoon beautifully blends scene with exposition, creating stories that are both interesting and insightful. Structurally, on a purely craft level, it’s a masterful collection.

But none of these stories felt whole. I’d get to the end of a story feeling as if I was still somewhere in the middle of it. I’d find myself interested in a character, wondering what was going to happen next, where it was all going, and then the story ended, leaving me feeling completely lost and baffled. To me, these stories felt like moments out of time, parts of novels–beautifully crafted and moving, but not complete.

This is a critique I often have with short stories. Perhaps it’s my natural inclination toward novels–I want to know everything about all the characters–and so it’s much harder for short stories to satisfy me. I’m starting to think that perhaps listening to short stories on audio compounds this. I don’t have the ability to flip back through the pages, rereading. I sometimes stop listening in the middle of a story, or start the next one mere seconds after finishing the one before it. On audio, story collections start to run together; I don’t, perhaps, take the time to digest each story before moving on, and so the whole experience is less satisfying.

The Mountain didn’t wow me, but Yoon is a talented writer, and I highly recommend his work. If your brain can process and digest short stories in ways that mine can’t, there is a whole lot of beauty, intelligence, and grace in this collection.

 

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