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Welcome to my Monday morning book blog. Every Monday morning I will talk about a book I've read during the previous week, sometimes from a literary viewpoint or a writer's perspective, sometimes simply what excites me about the book. I read all kinds of things — nonfiction, literary fiction, genre fiction, poetry, backs of cereal boxes-so you never know what may show up here. Feedback is welcome; email firstname.lastname@example.org. I may publish some responses in future blog entries, so if you don't want your comments published, please note that in your email. Join me as we start off the week thinking about books.
Close Encounters, by Jen Michalski · 3 days ago by B. Morrison
Jen Michalski is a Baltimore writer who had a great year in 2013. I wrote about her amazing novel The Tide King. Her collection of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now also came out that year, and she was named one of “50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and won a “Best of Baltimore” for Best Writer from Baltimore Magazine. She is also the editor of the literary quarterly jmww, host of a local reading series, and editor of City Sages, an anthology of Baltimore writers.
Now this year, she has a new collection of short stories out, From Here. It is as a short story writer that I first heard of her. Her short fiction workshops are jammed, and when I took one I could see why. Her generous but incisive comments made me look at my story in a new way and enabled me to strengthen it.
It is an earlier collection of short stories that I’d like to talk about today. My friendship with the author aside, I found these stories astounding. The title is perfect, for these encounters with odd and ordinary people bring us close indeed to their worlds.
Some are children, such as a girl named Lincoln in “The Body” who discovers just that in the woods behind the trailer park where she lives. Some are teens, discovering how to appreciate those who are different. Some are adults, such as Diana Sprigg in “The Assistant”, famous as America’s Housewife, who comes across as a slightly deranged Martha Stewart. And then there is the hilarious “Commencement Speech, Whitney Houston, East Southern University, June 9, 2006”.
Some stories stretch the imagination, such as “In Fetu” where two people, two separate souls, inhabit one body. The accommodations they must make for each other from babyhood on are astutely described. By limiting the fantastic to that single element, making everything else thoroughly realistic, Michalski helps the reader suspend disbelief.
Her sentences evoke an entire world, such as in this excerpt from “The Body”:
Michalski has a marvelous ability to inhabit each of her characters fully and to find each one’s unique voice. Given a short story by a writer whose work I’ve read, without being told I can usually identify the author. I would never mistake a story by Ron Rash for one by Ryan O’Neill. However, here Michalski displays a chameleon-like ability to take on a new speech pattern with each story. She explores a variety of characters, adapting her style to suit each one. Here is an excerpt from “The Assistant”:
Even Michalski’s ordinary people become extraordinary as we come to know them. Our journey with each is intense, whether the story is told in few or many pages. I look forward to reading her new collection.
Many of us read classic stories in school, such as those by Chekhov, Faulkner, and Joyce. What modern short story writers have you read?