Please note: As I explain below, I have been receiving short stories by email through Penguin Random House’s Season of Stories initiative. I wasn’t sure how to review these since, by nature of being individual pieces of short fiction, the reviews were also relatively short. So I’ve decided to post these reviews in blocks of more concentrated posting: the first three will go up Wednesday, Saturday, and Monday over this coming week. The rest will be up in a few weeks.
Season of Stories: ‘Dumpster Diving with the Stars’ by Helen Ellis
This was the first of the short stories I received through Penguin Random House’s Season of Stories. I was really excited about receiving the first one, especially since it came very conveniently in time for my lunch break. Over the next three days, I enjoyed getting installment after installment of this short story in my inbox and now, as I’m writing this, I’m considering whether to get myself a copy of Helen Ellis’ short fiction collection from which this piece originates.
‘Dumpster Diving with the Stars’ is the story of a writer who hasn’t published for 15 years as she takes part in a reality show. Initially reluctant, she becomes friends with the other contestants and finds a new subject to write about: friendships on reality shows. Through the eyes of her cynical narrator, Ellis takes the reader through the behind-the-scenes and the manipulation of reality shows and introduces a range of interesting characters. I found that I got really invested in these characters, despite the fact that, as readers, we barely even know their names. Yet I too felt protective of Misty as she was deliberately kept in the dark about the outcome of her sister’s surgery; I too was rooting for the ‘uninteresting’ writer to win; I too felt proud of the contestants for the way they banded together in the face of all the manipulation.
The story was sent to me in 4 installments, and I have to say I really enjoyed receiving it in that way. Whoever divided the narrative up did a very good job of choosing to divide in places which would maintain engagement and set up anticipation for the next installment. Going from installment 3 to installment 4 had me particularly excited: I really wanted to know how everything was resolved. I have a strong feeling that a large part of my investment in this narrative and the characters was due to the way the story was delivered; I was living in this world for four days, and so I was able to wonder what was coming next.
I really enjoyed Ellis’ writing and the comic tone to the story. As I mentioned in the introduction, I am wondering whether to get a copy of Ellis’ American Housewife. However, there is a part of me that wonders whether reading the stories straight through would have a different effect to being able to read them in installments. I definitely want to investigate this and see if I can find some reviews to help me decide. Overall, this was a really enjoyable read, and a great use of my lunch breaks for four days.