No, the girl says, she will not wear the fetal monitoring belt. Her birth plan says no to fetal monitoring.
These girls with their birth plans, thinks Franckline, as if much of anything about a birth can be planned….
And so begins Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens. Lore is a single thirtysomething who shows up at the hospital alone to give birth. She is assigned a nurse, Franckline, who has just entered her second trimester, but is not showing—and hasn’t told her husband yet. Eleven Hours is the story of Lore’s labor and delivery, but her story is also Franckline’s. The two women seem very different, but they have more in common than they will ever (or could ever) know.
“You could say they invented me.”
What is refreshing about literary memoirs like Peter Selgin’s is how they transform the reader through writing and self-invention. In The Inventors, Selgin charts his path from age thirteen to fifty-seven, focusing on the influence of two significant role models: his father and an unnamed teacher. These men are complex, rich, mysterious, and flawed. Selgin’s stories are personal and gut-wrenchingly honest, foregrounding memory, language, and creativity. “Can words ever do the past justice? But words are about all I have, words and this odd device known as memory, that thinks it remembers the past, when really it’s inventing it.”
The courtroom is a place where events recur. In the court, we are presented with recollections, archives, and evidence. In 1995, Americans watched the O.J. Simpson trial; ten years later the miniseries American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson appears in our living rooms. Crimes that were witnessed by many people are particularly suited to this type of recurrence. And the logic of the courtroom privileges the general over the specific, making “points” and “examples” that are cobbled together from crumbs.
A good short story collection maintains a common thread, compiling stories as one would compile an album, so that reading it from beginning to end offers a sustained exercise in meaning. It’s satisfying to turn the last page and feel it intertwine with all those that came before it. Sean Beaudoin’s Welcome Thieves is one of the best examples I’ve come across. While the stories range in focus from small town athletes to struggling musicians, from youthful hedonists to back-alley boxers, each one is ready to jump ship.
An album is a good comparison for Welcome Thieves because Beaudoin knows music—he knows what it’s like to want to become (and fail at becoming) a rock visionary. The opening story, “Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” is a hilariously tragic play-by-play of a foolishly spent youth. From the onset, Beaudoin’s prose moves with sharp purpose, refusing to get lost in sentimentality. Beaudoin is a master of emotional economy. Continue reading
The characters in Amina Gautier’s third collection accumulate a lifetime of losses; it’s what unifies the stories. And while thematically linked collections are a staple of literary fiction, what Gautier does with the theme of loss is refreshing. None of her characters improve as a result of their misfortune. Instead, they continue to be selfish or engage in questionable behavior.
In “As I Wander” a recent widow takes to wandering the streets and sleeping with a stranger. In “Intersections” a character stalks his estranged lover, critiquing the women who pass by: “He cannot watch the women… They unnerve him. When they pass in front of his white ’91 Volvo SE Station Wagon they seem to him a potential threat… He cannot believe Jasmine lives here.”
But Gautier isn’t out to construct simple anti-heroes. She grants all of her characters moments of dignity and grace. Take this passage from the title story about parents whose son has been kidnapped: Continue reading
The characters in Greg Jackson’s prismatic debut collection, Prodigals, are searchers. Most want more than they have: money, fame, artistic and/or spiritual contentment. They all yearn for the “standard” tenets of adult life: structure, comfort, purpose, an end to the enervating restlessness of youth, a home to come back to. But as the years add up, those benchmarks get complicated, muddled. Does anyone ever truly grow up?
“It was an odd moment in my life,” confesses Daniel, the rut-stuck journalist who narrates the uncanny and ambiguous “Serve-and-Volley, Near Vichy.” Daniel is on his way to stay at the home of former tennis legend, Lèon Descoteaux—a man who, as we soon learn, may be more Patrick Bateman than Pete Sampras. Continue reading