Yesterday I read…

Yesterday I read Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteredge. I can see why the book won the Pulitzer, which is nice (sometimes, I'm bewildered and can't figure out what the jduges were thinking). It was a little -- bleak? I mean, linked stories, okay, it makes sense that you're going to be hitting crisis points in people's lives, my own linked-stories book is the same, and actually, a few people called that bleak too, which I didn't expect, so maybe it's just endemic to the genre. But I hope not, because now that I'm writing a new linked-stories book, I'm hoping to have a fair more positive stuff balancing out any difficulty and pain -- sexiness and joy and maybe some funny, if I can manage it. Maybe this is just a general challenge for fiction, given that it's the crisis and the stress that so often gets readers turning pages. But while I loved reading Olive on one level (and was pretty envious of the author's skill with words on another), I also hit a point where I just thought, "Is everybody really so desperate all the time? Are people really so sad?" And then I went and snuggled with a grinning two-year-old and felt better.

Now I'm re-reading Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, one of my old favorites that I've probably read a dozen times by now. There's a lot of pain and confusion in those books too (along with trying to keep from getting killed by remorseless shapeshifters), but there's also beauty and love, pulsing from almost every page. It's the moments between the three main characters, the charm and intensity of them, that keep me turning pages there. I'd like to read more books like that. I'd like to write them.

2 thoughts on “Yesterday I read…”

  1. I don’t think bleakness is endemic to linked stories. The linkage can actually counterbalance the “intense awareness of human loneliness” sometimes said to be characteristic of short stories. (I read this once in a Best American Short Stories preface, and now I see that it comes from Frank O’Connor.)

    The way I see it, short stories often feel lonely because they only have time to draw one character that we readers care about. In a book of linked stories, we’ve met other characters that they encounter, so their world feels less lonely, and hopefully, less bleak.

  2. Hi Mary Anne,

    In reading this journal entry, I found myself recalling your postings some years ago, on your eagerness at writing a novel…which was later published and of how you would go to your favourite cafe and spend the mornings doing this…and of your serenity in encountering that time; the atmosphere, moods etc. I still find that memory of your journal entries glorious, if not vivid. 🙂

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