WRITING WELL 10 - piquant prose

by Susan Weber

I didn’t want to like this collection, but each story makes me hungry for the next. By the end of story three, I’m sure the card stock coaster will not be wedged between this book’s pages to save a tale or two for later. The lowercase print across the coaster's belly reads federal, a café situated on Carrer del Parlament in Barcelona. I recall baked eggs with manchego and jamón serrano, milk white plates, long wood-grain tables that catch too much Mediterranean light for the jet-lagged eye to handle. Tulips in the window tell me to read every story by noon. It’s Sunday, so I take the dare.

This writer grows on me. She is young; she is older than her years. I envy and revere her, but mostly I want to see what happens next. Maybe I begrudge her the childhood I never had. The magic one where nobody fettered her with TV or lady-like behavior. Or, since I may be wrong about her origins, I might resent her escape from brain-indoctrination when she reached a certain age, with time left to squirt her indelible rebellion across untold pages.

I wonder why I resist being charmed by this exquisite practitioner of fiction. Is it skepticism based on conceit? Rudeness built on fear? I think we’re getting closer. Her accomplished stories stoke my fear that I will swell the ranks of writers who routinely fail their readers.

The stories draw me in to their generative orb. Take these words, all found on one page: bildungsroman, motor coach, hausfrau, slattern. They have teeth, but I’m the one who chews on them. Since they heartily belong in her story, she gets away with using them and I get away with not needing to look them up. Nice work, young old short-fiction hypnotist.

I like the fourth story’s Peggy when her daughter says, My mother pulls me back with a jerk. She ducks behind the curtains that hang over the big picture window but leaves me standing out in front of her. From there, she tries to operate me from behind, like a puppet. “Disloyal, faithless,” she shakes my arm at my father. “Did you think I wanted to be here, at this point in my life?”

If the woman were corporeal, I’d actively avoid her. But Peggy, in this writer’s hands, flaunts her annoying flaws with humor, pathos, and integrity I can’t quite explain.

Good writing eventually disarms us, even when we’ve become jaded by poorly told stories on screens, on pages, in conversations held or astutely overheard. Decent writers have me trusting them to deliver the goods and here I am, a lap dog lapping. It’s almost as though this writer relishes depriving me of jade.

If you've read this far and wish I had the common courtesy to name the book I’m reading, here it is. Twin Study by Stacey Richter.  You might also look to my newsletter, which is where I correspond with readers. I cherish the hope that, if you haven't, you'll sign on with me as I scheme and dream one day to write a book you can’t put down, even if you want to.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg CC BY 2.0