Category Archives: story

Keeping a secret

[ The writer was raped  when she was twelve by a pack of boys, one of whom she loved. She  told no-one.  She  began eating and eating.]

Even as I became more and more withdrawn, my family remained strong, connected in these intimate, indelible ways. I have no doubt that my parents noticed the change in me. They would continue to notice, to worry over me, for the next twenty years and longer. But they didn’t know how to talk to me and I didn’t let them in. When they tried, I deflected, refusing to take the lifelines they offered me. The longer I kept my secret, the more attached I became to keeping my truth to myself, the more I nurtured my silence.

Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body        

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Story

. . . As I came near the Latin Quarter, a girl appeared in the crowd, walking alone. She wore a tight white crêpe dress, much whiter than flesh and she had a small, fluffy white mink stole around her shoulders and her bosom. She was very slim, and she walked like two snakes, while her hemline slithered around her knees. She was much too clever to wear a very short dress. She showed her knees, and left the rest to her audience, to us — to all of us. We all looked. Her dress was more than very tight. It was extremely tight. Nobody looked at her knees. Everybody looked at her lap. Her hair was gold and it glittered, and so did her slippers, which were of transparent plastic edged with gold. She carried a small handbag, also of transparent plastic edged with gold, but it contained nothing except a gold lipstick, which rolled about like dice. I thought at first she must have some money tucked away in the tops of her stockings or somewhere, but as far as I could make out she had nothing at all under her dress. We all stared at her, in our different ways, and from our attention she drew the air of indifference which made her a star. She cast swift glances right and left to show us how she despised us all, and then she vanished, leaving us but nothing to look at but ourselves.

Maeve Brennan, The Long-Winded Lady, Maeve Brennan (1917 –1993)[1] was an Irish short story writer and journalist. She moved to the United States in 1934 where she wrote a column for The New Yorker, The Long-Winded Lady

(from here) 

 

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Story

In an author’s note at the opening of Joyce Carol Oates’s fourth novel, them, she claims, with an apparent sincerity that many readers took as the truth, that her story was based on the confessions of a former night student of hers named Maureen Wendall. Nevertheless, it’s a surprising moment when, in the middle of her otherwise straightforward narrative, Maureen, the main character of the book, speaks directly to the author. “Dear Miss Oates. The books you taught me are mainly lies I can tell you,” Maureen writes. And it feels like a cry not just against the poverty and violence of her life, but against the story her author is trying to make that life fit into.
Tom Nissley, A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers ..

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Memoir as the quest to understand

“To write a memoir”, [Richard] Ford claims, “and to consider the importance of another human being is to try to credit what might otherwise go unremarked”. In pondering this, however, Ford is brought up against his own “incomplete understanding”. While Between Them was undertaken in order to “remedy my longing by imagining them near”, it is just as much a record of lapses and blanks. Ford adopts a speculative mode, with provisional portraits evoked by missing details:

“And how was it for him? Driving, driving alone? Sitting in those hotel rooms, in lobbies, reading a strange newspaper in the poor lamplight … smoking?”

Oftentimes, Ford develops the scene in the negative:

“I don’t remember the time of year of his heart attack … I don’t remember it being cold or hot.”

As a consequence, what is most moving is less the story told than the nature of the inquiry: the long view taken by a son trying to imagine what his parents felt about their own lives, what these lives were like before him, and what they have become in memory.

 

Stephanie Bishop reviewing ‘Between Them’ by Richard Ford, a memoir of his parents. The Monthly June 2017 (from here) 

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Stories

“Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make them what we will. It’s a way of explaining the universe while leaving the universe unexplained, it’s a way of keeping it all alive, not boxing it into time. Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don’t believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It’s all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat’s cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more. History should be a hammock for swinging and a game for playing, the way cats play. Claw it, chew it, rearrange it and at bedtime it’s still a ball of string full of knots. Nobody should mind. Some people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, children, when bright, can come top. It’s an all-purpose rainy day pursuit, this reducing of stories called history.”

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, p 91 

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So sorry

The new therapist specializes in trauma counselling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

“At the front door, the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard? … you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

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The ennoblement of shame

[The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre] interpreted Genet above all as a writer, who took control of the contingencies of his life by writing about them. But where did Genet get this ability to transform the events of his life into art, asked Sartre? Was there a definite moment when Genet, a despised and abused child abandoned by his unmarried mother and taken in by an orphanage, began to turn into a poet?

Sartre found the moment he was looking for in an incident that occurred when Genet was ten years old and living with a foster family. Such a child was expected to be humble and grateful, but Genet refused to comply, and showed his rebellion by stealing small objects from the family and their neighbours. One day, he was sticking his hands in a drawer when a family member walked in on him and shouted, ‘You’re a thief!’ As Sartre interpreted it, the young Genet was frozen in the gaze of the Other: he became an object slapped with a despicable label. Instead of feeling abashed, Genet took that label and changed its meaning by asserting it as his own. You call me a thief? Very well, I’ll be a thief.

. . . . he owned his outsider identity as thief, vagrant, homosexual and prostitute. He took control of his oppression by inverting it, and his books take their energy from that inversion . .

Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails, p 219

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The frettings of the very rich

When one owns four homes and has fifteen full-time gardeners perfecting one’s seven gardens and eight man-made streams, one will, of necessity, spend a great deal of time racing between homes and from garden to garden, as so it is perhaps not surprising if, one afternoon, rushing to check on the progress of a dinner one’s cook is preparing for the board of one’s favourite charity, one finds oneself compelled to take a little rest, briefly dropping to one’s knee, then both knees, then pitching forward on to one’s face and, unable to rise, proceeding here for a more prolonged rest, only to find it not restful at all, since, while ostensibly resting, one finds oneself continually fretting about one’s carriages, gardens, furniture, homes et al., all of which (one hopes) patiently await one’s return, not having (Heaven forfend) fallen into the hands of some (reckless, careless, undeserving) Other.

percival “dash” collier

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo, p129

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The cover-up

The celebration of marriage. Nuptials.

When I married Ruthy, Aunt Idka showed up at our wedding with a Band-Aid on her arm. She had covered her number with a Band-Aid because she didn’t want to cast a pall on the happy occasion. I felt crushed with grief and compassion for her, for what she must have endured to do a thing like that. All evening I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her arm I felt as if under the clean little Band-Aid lay a deep abyss that was sucking us all in: the hall, the guests, the happy occasion, me. I had to put that story in here. Sorry. 

David Grossman, The Complete Encyclopaedia of Kazik’s Life

David Grossman, one of contemporary Israel’s leading writers, was born in Jerusalem in 1954. His family immigrated to Palestine from Poland in the 1930s, before the Second World War, so he is neither a Holocaust survivor nor a child of survivors.  . . .  His second novel, See Under: Love is an intensely creative treatment of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Some have criticized the degree of experimentation in the novel, given its grave subject matter. Nevertheless, the novel’s deeply compassionate evocation of the lives of survivors and their children, combined with its bold innovations in language and form, make See Under: Love a central achievement of modern Hebrew literature.

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The journalist’s lawnmower

That spring when life was very hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn’t see where that was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations. Going down them was fine but there was something about standing still and being carried upwards that did it. From apparently nowhere tears poured out of me and by the time I got to the top and felt the wind rushing in, it took all my effort to stop myself from sobbing. It was as if the momentum of the escalator carrying me forwards and upwards was a physical expression of a conversation I was having with myself. Escalators, which in the early days of their invention were known as ” travelling staircases” or “magic stairways”, had mysteriously become danger zones.

I made sure I had lots to read on train journeys. This was the first time in my life I had ever been pleased to read newspaper columns about the things that happened to the journalist’s lawnmower.

Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing

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