Hello! I’ve gone in a slightly different direction this week. Rather than review an entire novel, I’ve read two short stories. Why? Because I love short stories, both reading and writing. And I think this will be a lovely way to shake up my blog. So, without further ado, here are the stories I’ve chosen. Both of these stories come from my 2009 edition of The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories edited by Laura Furman.
Tell Him About Brother John by Manuel Muñoz
Mr. Muñoz offers us a glimpse into the life of a man who has chosen to move away from his family and neighborhood, and all the complications that go along with returning for a visit. Much of the story revolves around the character known as “Brother John”, a child that a neighbor ostensibly adopted when the child’s parents disappear. Brother John becomes a child of the community and a person whom the narrator, whose name we do not know, is obligated to visit during his stay.
We learn a lot about the narrator’s family: a father who has suffered a divorce, brothers and sisters who appear ungrateful for their father’s supervision of their children, a hoard of nephews who are at the age where the words that come out of their mouth never move through a filter. It’s background information that serves to inform us that while this entire trip is obligatory, it’s not exactly a comfortable or welcome one.
And then there’s Brother John. The narrator takes him out to lunch and is bestowed with a story that says more about the narrator’s own choices and shortcomings than it does about the experience Brother John is relating. The entire exchange is devastating and revealing, and finally offers the context the reader is missing from this square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling that pervades the story. Now we know why things are weird, awkward, uncomfortable, and mostly, unspoken.
This story is an exercise in subtext. Some writers attempt this in their stories and wind up with a sense of cloying innuendo or simply an air of unfinished work. Mr. Muñoz hits the nail on the head here, acing subtext and using it as delicately as a master writer to make us feel what the narrator feels, and help us identify with what it means to go back home.
Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:
This is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks
Daria is a Russian woman living in Finland with her “match made” husband, Paavo. She is lonely, has no job, and barely speaks Finnish. And her daughter Nika is missing.
Caitlin Horrocks offers a domestic suspense/mystery wrapped in the tale of a desperate immigrant woman. This story has layers upon layers, and the further we delve into the why and the how of Daria’s situation, the closer we come to the dramatic conclusion. Not the conclusion of what happened to Nika, although that is answered by the end of the story. The true conclusion in this story addresses the themes of cause and effect, the lengths that a woman would go to in order to provide for her child, and the choices many women are forced to live with in exchange for security.
Some might read this as a feminist piece, though I don’t think it’s meant to be. Others will see it as a very well written mystery, which it most definitely is. And still, some might view it as a parable, that perhaps the “sins” of the past never truly leave you, and that the truth may not always set you free. In a dark sort of way, this story comes full circle in that Daria makes a less than ideal choice to protect herself and ensure her daughter does not have to subject herself to the same choice. In the end, though, we see that what happens to Nika may be considered worse than anything that happened to Daria, and that the choices Nika will have to make will have much deeper and possibly disastrous repercussions through out her life. And the subtle truth that Daria comes to in the end, that perhaps none of this would have happened if Daria had taken a different route, is truly heartbreaking.
An excellent blend of multiple genres, this story offers something for everyone, no matter how deeply you read into it. Please note, though this review is vague to preserve the experience of the story and avoid spoilers, in the end there are no scenes of violence, sexual or otherwise.
Official Kristine’s BRF Rating: