Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Wickersham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wickersham. Show all posts

15 November, 2015

Joan Wickersham, "A Conversation with Joan Wickersham" by Vivian Dorsel

There's a great interview with Joan Wickersham in the 11th edition, 2015, of Upstreet. She discusses her ideas about writing. She's disciplined but in her own way. Once she's at work, she's focused but doesn't set any numeric demands or goals.

In writing, she looks for precision of words, beauty of the sentences and that the "consequences of the things you set in motion" are shown. I'm particularly interested in Wickersham's responses because she is not an M.F.A. person and she's as accomplished and talented as anyone else. Well, and I just like her writing a lot.

07 September, 2015

Joan Wickersham, "The Program"

An interesting story with a food addiction program as its subject matter and a theme about language and its usage and how word usage and choice alters and controls one's thoughts. And, in this case, actions, i.e., eating. "I think she's eating." The program becomes an active participant in the lives of its members, "The program nodded. The program understood."

"The Program" is written in second person point of view that reads like first person. Quoting from Alice LaPlante's book, The Making of a Story, "The 'you' is actually an inverted form of first person. That is, it is a first person narrator referring to himself or herself as 'you'--usually because they are dissociating themselves from distasteful thoughts, actions, or memories." Second person works well with this story and I can't imagine "The Program" written any other way. This story fulfills the Harvard Review's desire to publish works that exhibit, "...not experience itself in the end but the translation of experience into art."

In the editor's editorial in the Harvard Review, number 47, Christina Thompson, states about Wickersham's story, "'The Program' is narrated in an uncommon--and rather difficult--mode, which I was delighted to see her pull off." I agree. It's a fabulous work of art.

Harvard Review
Joan Wickersham

09 December, 2014

Joan Wickersham, "An Inventory"

The protagonist, in her mid to late forties, writes about the boys in her life from elementary school until she gets married. The story is written in 2nd POV many years later with the narrator not knowing her future as the reader does. The narrator is looking back into her history and addressing her younger self as you. The other interesting formal issue is that there are several long footnotes which are side notes or tangents that add to the story but if included would inhibit the forward focus of the story.

The story is about yearning and desire coupled with self-doubt as well as peers' attitudes and cruelty. For me, the strength of the story is the astute way Wickersham writes about the feelings and sensibilities of a young girl, then young woman and the teen stages in between. The youngest observation about Boy 1, "You kept thinking of him walking around in Texas, his small, unguarded ankles." By the time she's in high school, "You were ashamed of Boy 19. You were also ashamed of yourself, for disowning him."

Favorite Lines: "You were scared of doing something that, once done, would never again be something you'd never done."

"There was a little radar blip of shame then, as you imagined for a moment what it had looked like: a solicitous boy leading a fat girl across the selling floor--past the gloves, the perfume, the jewelry--to paradise; but you put it aside and gave yourself over to the pleasure of choosing exquisite little squares and mounds and fluted ovals for the saleslady to seize with deft fingers and arrange for you in a deep and costly golden box."

At the end of the story, the reader knows the protagonist's future while the narrator does not. It's an interesting formal treatment. So often people want to know what is going to happen to the main character and here the readers do know. In some ways, this method of 2nd person feels like a lecture to one's past self, "why you had done any of it, all that yearning and energy and self-reproach spent on people who seemed central and then didn't really figure at all." This is a kind of a story of "if I knew then what I know now."

"An Inventory" by Joan Wickersham was published by One Story, Issue number 198.

Wickersham's web page
article from The Morning News
One Story interview with Joan Wickersham

28 May, 2014

Joan Wickersham, "The Tunnel, or The News from Spain"

"The Tunnel, or The News from Spain" is written in a shifting third-person point of view. Rebecca has gone to visit her very ill mother, "Harriet has been sick on and off for years, more than a decade." Rebecca lives a four-hour drive away and has made these guilt and panic filled trips regularly. Rebecca's sister, Cath, disapproves of the inter-dependency of Harriet and Rebecca but does not offer assistance. Rebecca is divorced and during this time has three men in her life, unsuccessfully. Since Harriet's friend and companion, Ralph, lives nearby Harriet refuses to move closer to Rebecca where her bookstore is located and previously her teaching job.

There are many great insights in this story about relationships and family and illness. "What a disconcerting thing to feel, to acknowledge! It wasn't that she was sorry Harriet was still alive. It was more that she couldn't keep it up: the attention, the rapport, the camaraderie, the aimless joy of just hanging around with her mother, watching the news. She had burned herself out, just as Peter and her friends had warned her she might; but looking back at the time when Harriet had seemed to be dying, she couldn't imagine having managed it any other way."

Another insight but which is from Peter's point of view, "how miserably, suddenly certain he is that their long civilized mildness was fatal and largely his fault; how far from mild he is feeling now."

And something we should all heed. A theme, for me. "It has all gone on for so long without Harriet dying that Rebecca lost track of the fact that Harriet was going to die."

"The Tunnel, or The News from Spain" was first published in the journal Glimmer Train. Then included in the 2013 Best American Short Stories anthology as well as Wickersham's collection, The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story.

Some more themes, for me, are "suffering and acceptance," and "accidental instances when everything is brightly lit and you see where you are," as well as the toll long term illness takes on family members.

Joan Wickersham's personal web page
interview on the Morning News web site
New York Times review by Tom Barbash