Lauren Groff’s “Under the Wave” (“The New Yorker” July 9 and 16, 2018)
“Sometimes the child felt a second self inside, a watchful and small and crouching thing. It was different from this child who ate and grew and slept, who walked bravely into kindergarten taller than the other children and already knowing how to read.”
What happens on the other side of a traumatic event, which leaves someone inwardly changed forever, when two people who have emerged in the same place agree to adopt and share a new reality which drops a curtain on the loss and devastation behind them.
And does an adult in this situation have a greater responsibility to an external truth or to an internal need?
The look on a woman’s face, which comes back to the girl’s mind “every time someone crumpled a sheets of paper into a ball” leads to unexpected sacrifices.
And readers move between images like the “grey vinyl of a bus seat, scored like aged skin” and a “strange flat brown landscape passing dreamily by the window”, unsure whether to be comforted or outraged.
Jane Ozkowski’s “Every Sin Is Gasoline” Maisonneuve Issue 62 (Winter 2016)
Having quite enjoyed Jane Ozkowski’s first novel, written for young adults, Watching Traffic (2016), I was curious about this story.
“That’s officially what killed her, her head hitting the counter. All of it was probably an accident, only the knife she was butting vegetables with was now in her chest.”
And…that’s the last thing I was expecting to find. But, even though many of my favourite stories offer a glimpse into quiet, often solitary, lives, not all of CanLit’s short stories are sedate. Here, we have Swedish Berries and Lion King figurines – and a knife where it should never be. This brother-sister story begins after the kitchen incident, but events swirl around it in memory; the scenes are vivid and dialogue-driven, and by the time the knife is lodged into Maxine, readers aren’t entirely sure why it matters, but the trip there was certainly engaging.
Zadie Smith’s “Now More Than Ever” (“The New Yorker” July 23, 2018)
“How Eastman still has a job we really don’t know. Not only does he not believe the past is the present, but he has gone further and argued that the present, in the future, will be just as crazy-looking to us, in the present, as the past is, presently, to us, right now! For Eastman, surely, it’s only a matter of time.”
This is a short piece which plays with the question of how we situate ourselves to consider what has come before and what will come after, and the responsibility we have to define and speak our own truths. In this story, individuals who are holding hands on one page are cutting all ties on the next, because someone has taken offense to an opinion. This clearly has nothing to do with the present-day, in which nobody ever gets offended.
DISCUSSION: NOV. 1ST – DEC. 26TH
Following Mavis Gallant’s death on February 18th, 2014, Margaret Atwood contributed this to a remembrance in “The Globe and Mail”:
“”Mavis Gallant was a wonderful writer, a sharp observer of human nature, a formidable conversationalist, and an indomitable spirit who made her own way, often uphill. She was funny, quirky, and prickly if you crossed her, but kind underneath it, especially to underdogs. Her unique voice will be much missed.”
Now that I’ve read 53 of her 123 short stories, I feel as though I am getting to know her a little, reading between the lines of her fiction. Not peering for autobiographical elements (although sometimes I do catch a glimpse) but watching for what she notices, what she troubles to observe and record.
From the Fifteenth District was published in hard cover in 1979, and the “Toronto Star” review claimed it “brings us Mavis Gallant at the height of her powers” and “set the literary world afire”.
The collection contains the following stories: The Four Seasons NOV1 / The Moslem Wife NOV7 / The Remission NOV14 / The Latehomecomer NOV21 / Baum, Gabriel, 1935 — NOV28 / From the Fifteenth District DEC5 / Potter DEC12 / His Mother DEC19 / Irina DEC26