Book Review: Roald Dahl: Expect the Unexpected. The Complete Short Stories, Volume One: 1944-1953

Roald Dahl wrote a lot of stories. Some of them were good. Some of them were less good. Some may have been bad, but of course, I’m not enough of a writer or critic of writers to say such a thing. I just know what I like. I may not be much of a writer, but I am enough of a writer to recognize the strength in Roald Dahl’s style of writing. Straight forward, linear sentences and strongly structured stories, simply stated. It’s the story, really, more than the writing that makes the story. Dahl has great stories. Interesting ideas, clearly presented. Intriguing, creative, deceptive, often disturbing stories, told very simply. Not one wasted word. Many of them in this volume of Dahl’s earliest stories are about his experience in the RAF during World War II. I very much enjoy World War II stories. I can’t get enough. And the perspective, tension and detail that Dahl provides in his WWII stories is intoxicating. Again, I’m no book blogger or critic of any kind…far from an expert, but I might dare to compare the style of writing to Ernest Hemingway. I can’t be the first to make that connection. (Gonna check Google now). But the straight ahead style; no nonsense, straight talk, here’s the story, nothing fancy, just a good story, and well told, reminds me of Hemingway, (and both my grandfathers), and for some reason, I’ve read alot of Hemingway.

I did some research. Dahl and Hemmingway in 1944. Who knew? I was just guessing based on their writing style. Hemingway never wrote children’s stories, though, as far as I know.

“Baby shoes for sale, never used,” is Hemingway’s famous six word story. Dahl writes similar straightforward, simple but clearly detailed sentences with so much meaning behind the words. From The Soldier: “Yesterday, lying in bed in the early morning when the noise of the gunfire was just beginning far away down in the valley, he had reached out with his left hand and touched her body for a little comfort. ‘What on earth are you doing?’ Nothing, dear. ‘You woke me up.’ I’m sorry. It would be a help if she would only let him lie closer to her in the early mornings when he began to hear the noise of gunfire.”

If the reader may indulge, I’d like to add a short story alongside these literary giants, but I should say at the outset, should anyone wish to publish this story, I didn’t write it. An anonymous someone told me this story. Here it is: “We tried. It didn’t work. That’s it.”

Of course, in all these stories, there is so much left unsaid. There’s much more to it than that. And much more that to it, as well. But in some stories, words just get in the way. Dahl, Hemingway and Anonymous made an art of using only the absolutely necessary and essential words to capture and convey hearts and souls and stories. My own writing tends to be more dramatic, poetic, romantic, ambiguous and, admittedly, as these three legendary short story authors would surely agree, pathetic. It seems the more I write, the further I get from finishing the story.

In the spirit of disturbing and unexpected things, I’m putting this here because Dahl and Hemingway, and others I hope, can appreciate the direct clarity and unambiguous stoicism of the writing. It just is what it is:

“You are so beautiful like this.” His voice was a smoky whisper. “Lost in sensation, your lovely skin flushed. You make me need you. I need to touch you. Taste you.”

“Yes,” she murmured, the sponge moving over her sex, his words making her shudder, desire sharp and pure dancing into her. She felt desperate suddenly, needed him, all of him: his hands, his mouth, his lovely hard cock.

“God, what you do to me.” His tone was strangled as he dropped the sponge into the water and pulled her close, crushing her breasts against the hard plane of his chest. His cock was a rigid shaft against her belly. The energy between them shifted, intensified, a deep primal lust burning. And all she wanted was him inside her body.

……………………………………And so on.

The off-kilter beats of Radiohead. Disturbing and unexpected. Forget about your house of cards, and I’ll do mine.

This was all really unexpected, wasn’t it? It says “expect the unexpected” right in the title, so, as Radiohead sings in another song, “no alarms, no surprises, please.”

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