Shorts - "Like It Or Not" by Deborah Eisenberg
I’d never heard of Deborah Eisenberg until a fellow student analyzed one of her recent stories in a workshop I attended (“Your Duck Is My Duck” - highly recommend). As a late-blooming writer myself, the fact that she didn’t begin writing at all until age thirty and has since been awarded such glamorous things as a MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN/Faulkner Award is endlessly inspiring.
This week, I read her story “Like It Or Not,” about Kate, a divorced American schoolteacher who takes a holiday to Italy when she discovers her ex-husband is dying, and Harry, an acquaintance who spends a day showing her around the coast. As someone who tends towards sparseness in my prose, I love how she packs her stories with imagery and meandering dialogue. For example, Briefly, he closed his eyes, luxuriating the purity of her face and body, the glowing skein of sensation she was causing the air to spin out around him, his sharp thrill of longing—everything, in short, he was waiting (like a bride!) to lose. Writing as flowery as that could seem contrived, but Eisenberg manages to make it feel absolutely true. She also has a knack for spot-on description: tears spilling up into her eyes and One of the drunken singers had toppled off her heights of joy and was now crying.
What I learned most from this story, however, was its structure. Without giving the specifics away, we spend most of the story thinking this is a story about Kate. The majority of the story is in her POV, and we experience Harry, and the coast, and her own anxieties and worries through her voice. But then, in the last page of the story, Eisenberg switches ever so briefly to Harry, and all of the sudden the story is about something else entirely. I felt like I understood the title after reading the last page. “Like it or Not” nothing is ever really about us, not in the way we imagine.
Other stories I read this week:
“Step In” by Zulema Renee Summerfield
“The Wind Cave” by Haruki Murakami
“Easy Living” by Cally Fiedorek
“Suicides” by Ellen Gilchrist from In The Land of Dreamy Dreams