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NIGHT TRAIN by A.L. Snijders


Very Short Stories

by A.L. Snijders ; translated by Lydia Davis

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2856-5
Publisher: New Directions

A new English collection of very short stories about daily life from Dutch writer Snijders (1937-2021).

At 19 pages, translator Davis’ introduction is exponentially longer than any story in this collection of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them vignettes. Davis explains that Snijders uses a form of his own invention; he calls its products zkv’s, short for zeer korte verhalen, or “very short stories,” a format in which Davis herself is beloved. (And Snijders’ work is satisfyingly Davis-esque.) Most of the stories are less than a page. Though Snijders claims that they are fictional, there is the artifice of autobiography here: The narrators are old men who grew up in Amsterdam and now live in the woods east of that city (as does Snijders, according to the intro). Snijders’ stories focus on the quotidian: animals seen from his rural property, paragraphs and poems he reads that strike his fancy. Hearing an owl screech leads to a rumination about a line by Szymborska (whose work Snijders’ also resembles) then a remembrance of a man he saw the day before wearing a strange coat (“Owl”). In “Carbide,” the narrator reads a Cheever story about a man firing a gun; at the moment the narrator reads this action, he hears a loud bang from his neighbor’s property. In “Shoe,” Snijders reflects on his own art, saying that when he began writing zkv’s, he learned that “brevity could be 1) technical in nature—few conjunctions, little explanation, trust in the reader’s autonomous celebration—and 2) substantive.” That Snijders uses the word celebration here feels right. For all their brevity and mystery, these stories ultimately touch on the way that perception, language, connection, and an appreciation of the natural world give depth, even joy, to life.

Deceptively simple, disarmingly charming.