It's been a wet weekend and I got caught in rainshowers not once but twice (one of those times two books were caught as well and now are a bit crinkly). But now I am warm and dry and nothing has dampened my reading spirit especially since it has been an excellent weekend of short story reading. As a matter of fact about the only thing I have managed to read these past two days are short stories. I'm nearly finished with Infinite Riches and this week's story is by an author I had not come across before, Attia Hosain. And I am once again caught up with my New Yorker short story reading.
This story collection is in no way dated but in the more than dozen years that have passed since its US publication more than a few authors who were alive at the time have since passed away and it is always a little sad to read the biographical material which talks about the women in present tense only to look them up further and discover they died several years ago (or more). Attia Hosain was born in India but moved to Britain in 1947. She was a writer and broadcaster and worked for the BBC. It looks as though at least two of her novels were published by Virago and will it surprise you to hear that I plan on looking for both of them? I loved her story, "Time is Unredeemable", which was pitch perfect.
Another melancholy story which tells of a woman waiting for her 'beloved' to return home only to discover that the wait has been for nothing. Upon reading the last couple of pages again, I think the meaning of the conversation between husband and wife can be read more than one way, but in both cases, the meaning is almost devastating.
Time heals all? Tine apart makes the heart grow fonder? Or maybe time really is unredeemable. Nine long years is what Bano waits for her husband to return home to India from Britain.
"When the second cable arrived, confirming the date he was to sail, Bano allowed herself to believe her husband was really coming back."
It wasn't meant to be such a long separation but the war years intervened and then travel was difficult with so much displacement after the war.
"Bano was sixteen when she was married to a reluctant Arshad a month before he sailed for England. In that brief, bust month she accepted the young stranger, barely two years older than herself, as the very focus of her being. To her mother and his the hurriedly arranged marriage was a moral insurance."
How much hanky panky with foreigners can go on with a wife at home? Although we don't know what Arshad filled his time with abroad, Bano lives a quiet closed life at home. "She was isolated from the outside world not only by physical seclusion but my mental oblivion." Letters crossed the ocean but at best they were formal and without passion. Luckily for Bano her father-in-law, liberal in his ideas, allows Bano to learn English from the English wife of an old family friend. Granted she drops her aitches and teaches her own version of ungrammatical colloquialisms, but Bano hopes to show her husband she is not like the other girls in the family, "ignorant and old-fashioned."
Finally the day comes with news of his return. It's not enough to show that she can speak some English, she decides she wants to dress more liberally and with a Western-style inspiration and again requests help from the old family friend. On the day he is to return she cannot eat or relax and sits in seclusion waiting for him to come to her. Of course she is last on the list of people he must first catch up with. It is almost painful watching Bano wait with anticipation and anxiety for her husband to come into her room. Nine years is such a long time to wait. They look at each other and she can see his discomfort in his eyes.
Life is messy and difficult and how often does it really turn out as we would like it to? Hosain captures all this so very well. I leave that last scene for you to imagine (and maybe prompt you to go look for this story).
Two stories left in the collection! Next week I finally get to try something by Grace Paley who has long been on my list of authors to read.
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How often do I say how short stories are often perfect introductions to writers you are eager to read (but can't quite seem to get around to?). The April 13 issue of the New Yorker has a wonderful story by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (whose books I seem to be collecting but not yet reading) called "Apollo". The story is a look back at a childhood event where the actions of the narrator cause the dismissal of his parent's houseboy. I don't think I have given anything away as the beauty, as always, is in the telling of the story and the complexities of memory. In the Q&A with Adichie she responds to one of the questions about how the story's ending "snaps the beginning of the story into place"--
"I am drawn as a reader to stories of childhood told in an adult voice, stories full of the melancholy beauty of retrospect. I am interested in the regrets we carry from our childhoods, in the idea of 'what if' and 'if only.' A novel I love, The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley, does this very well."
I like this as well and Hartley's novel is one of my very favorites. This first taste of her writing makes me eager for more! You can read the story here.
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This week's story (April 20 issue) is by Ann Beattie who is known for her short stories of which I have read a small handful. "Major Maybe" is a nostalgic slice of life sort of story about two roommates living in New York City in the 80s. Major Maybe is a dog who has a run in with a street person and is the impetus for the telling but it's really just a jumping off place since it is more about a moment in life that has passed but is looked back upon fondly. I'm always impressed when an author can do in so few pages what other writers need a whole book to achieve. You can read the author's Q&A here and the story here.
So, have you read any good short stories lately? I need to start thinking about a new collection to tackle. Or maybe it is time to graze--a story here and a story there, or maybe just an anthology of random classics?