I daresay a case could be made to argue that it is only when a novelist is writing short stories that you get a true measure of their abilities: the need to be economical but not too sparse; the creation of a plot that is coherent but not over-blown; the establishing of character without having the luxury of dozens of pages in order to do so. If such a case were made, then in “The Shell Collector” Anthony Doerr demonstrates what a really good writer he is.
To my mind there isn’t a dud in the eight stories in this volume, with “The Caretaker” and “Mkondo” standouts. These two, for example, explore relationships between two quite different characters, exploring what brings them together – and/or keeps them apart. To be as successful and complete as they are in a limited number of words is tremendous.
The stories vary in theme and length, and – I think this is key – stand on their own, and are not repetitive. I wish I’d read them before “All the Light We Cannot See”, and I recommend them heartily.