You might remember that I’ve been sampling books from Indie presses that have been shortlisted for this year’s ReLit Awards. Not just novels, but short stories, even poetry (which is adventurous for me). For a month of Sundays (at least), I’m Buried in ReLit Print.
I Still Don’t Even Know You, Michelle Berry (Turnstone)
Sample: Title story, “Five Old Crows”, and “The Good Little Girl”
Opening Sentence: “They are on the chairlift early that day and Rebecca says her ankle still hurts from the fall the day previously and Jack looks off into the horizon, balances his poles carefully, and taps the front of his skis.”
Like Alice Munro, Michelle Berry peeks into the lives of girls and women (and, occasionally, men).
Like Joan Barfoot, she isn’t afraid to interject a dark thread into the narrative. (And, sometimes, it’s funny, in a way that makes the reader distinctly uncomfortable.)
Like Carol Shields, she considers what it means to be good. Or, goodish.
One of the elements that stands out in these stories is the attention to detail which also manifests itself in the use of dialogue.
Michelle Berry’s dialogue is that sort which manages to perfectly straddle the line between the kinda-lazy way we have of talking to each other in the real world and the need that readers have for a greater clarity than often exists there.
What she adds (indirectly in succinct observations, in supporting gestures) makes the spoken fragments whole and this adds substantially to the verisimilitude in each of the stories I sampled.
It was coincidental that they covered three distinct phases in the lives of girls and women but, given that happy accident, I was particularly impressed that all three states (teenager, wife, near-widow) came off the page in bold strokes.
A Good Time Had by All, Meaghan Strimas (Exile)
Sample: Reverence, Life
Opening bit: Epigraph from Elizabeth Bishop “The art of losing isn’t hard to master”
Sampling the poetry collections on the ReLit list has made me aware that I don’t have a habit of talking about poems, so it’s hard to find the language to capture my experience of these.
But an interview that I heard on The Guardian last week spoke of the fact that people tend to turn to poetry nowadays when they are experiencing extreme emotions. Love and grief were mentioned in particular, but other emotions as well.
And that’s something that every reader can respond to, right? Poetry-reader or not. So maybe I don’t have the background to recognize the techniques at work in verse, but I can feel what’s between the lines.
Which is partly why I’ve chosen to quote the epigraph of this work, rather than the opening lines of “Nod to the Drunkard I Once Sat Next to in the Park”, having sampled the opening of this work.
Because that sense of despair does seem to simmer in the lines of this opening segment of poems. But also, you can hear the irony in the tone of the epigraph, the sense of the corner of a lip twitching upward in something poking at the idea of a smile.
Okay, you’ve twisted my reader’s hand into sharing those opening lines after all, because they, too, have this undercurrent of something bent-ly amusing (and sad).
“Well, here we are comes to mind/ though I do not say it. As here you are, / pissed drunk at noon & stinking of piss / & booze, heavenly booze & you’re likely / randy, though gentleman enough not to touch or make mention of the woman next to you on this bench. I’m lunching / & lonely. I’d like to chuck my ham sandwich / across the park just to se the pigeons flock.”
But even though these poems do have an air of despair (despite that wry note), there is also a fierceness to them. There is a twinned feeling of struggle and determination. A hint of resilience in the fragments.
Please let me know what you’ve been sampling this weekend?