Short and Shorter: Short Stories and Poetry
By Robert E. Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965-67)
Reviewed by Darcy Munson Meijer (Gabon 1982-84)
RPCV Robert Hamilton has collected 41 of his short stories and poems in Short and Shorter: Short Stories and Poetry. The stories were written between 1976 and 2013, and Hamilton laid them out in the order that they were written. Not primarily a writer, Hamilton wrote most of the stories as gifts to friends and family. Nonetheless, I found almost all of them quite pleasant to read.
As I read the first stories in the collection, my suspense was up. I feared that the character alone in the library at night would be stabbed by a deranged recluse. I expected Winston to get ensnared by ruthless arms dealers. I thought Mrs. Blake had an ugly secret. In fact, nobody in the stories gets hurt (though MR. Blake had an ugly secret), and nobody is bad. I got the feeling that the characters in Short and Shorter were people from Hamilton’s life - from his circle of friends, friends of friends, and people he’s read about. The table of contents includes the catchy story names “About the Same,” “Film Night,” “Guide to the Boboli Gardens,” “I Do,” and “Customer’s Man.”
After every story is a poem by Hamilton. ”’After” and “Malt Shop Blues” are decent poems. Four others are about people and places from the poet’s life, yet they might still appeal to outside readers (”Hillsdale Bakery Shop” and “DeBruyn Holiday,” for instance). However, the rest (especially the limericks) are either too frivolous to include or involve people and places we don’t know or care about. These should remain as gifts to friends and family. Come to think of it, the story “Christmas Tree” is an oddity that could go, too, and “Security” drags in the middle.
All in all, however, the stories in Short and Shorter shine with an appreciation for people and the inter-relationships that enrich us. People in the stories talk a lot: husbands and wives; siblings; parents and teens; old Italian men and American girls; neighbors; 2 newlywed couples in a horse-drawn carriage; strangers booked into the same hotel room by accident; even God, Buddha, and Mohammed. This book is about sharing the human experience. Even better, Hamilton doesn’t preach or give pat answers.
Hamilton taught with the Peace Corps in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia from 1965 to 1967. I asked him how his Peace Corps experience affected his life, and he replied that it can impact a person’s world view, analytical approaches, values, friendships, the choice of a spouse, and a lot of smaller, daily things (e.g. favorite foods and movies). He has a PhD in African history and anthropology, and the stories are sprinkled with interesting references to history, books, movies and characters.
This collection of stories is truly sweet. Hamilton admits, “I retain a certain naive way of looking afresh at the world, never sure that I understand any of it and so remain open to new experiences, perspectives, and the opinions and stories of others.” I would recommend only that he cull most of the poems and a few stories from Short and Shorter. This is a nice collection of well-crafted writing that should please almost any reader.
Darcy Meijer (Gabon, 1982-84) is a staunch supporter of the Peace Corps Worldwide website. She teaches English in the Academic Bridge Program at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. She has published Adventures in Gabon: Peace Corps Stories from the African Rainforest with the PCW imprint, and is collaborating with her husband on his soon-to-be-published book This, to Begin With.