Sunday, November 03, 2019

A kind of rough sketch of it

The sound of her voice in the empty house reassures and splits her: she's both a woman preparing for lunch and a woman watching a woman prepare for lunch, objectively observing her actions, putting down a record of their purity and triviality, her innocence. Nothing to see here.
Happy Like This, by Ashley Wurzbacher, is a collection of stories about smart, perceptive, and mostly self-aware women.

The first story, "Sickness and Health," takes the form of a dissertation by a sociology student embedded within a group of students with factitious disorders. But of course, the line between the observer and her subjects breaks down. I would happily have spend an entire novel within this sociological breakdown. At first I was disoriented by the form of this story, but I found it wholly engrossing and was disappointed that it came to an end.

I'm writing this weeks after having read this book. It's probably not fair of me. But this is how I feel. These stories have promise.

I'm turning into a woman of a certain age, the kind of woman who says, but you're so young, you don't even know what love is, you don't know what death is, you just wait and see. I'm not sure I like that about myself. I've always taken some pride in being open-minded and non-judgemental.

Some stories are definitely stronger than others. The first two are excellent. But most of them, I realize now, were fairly forgettable. They are all about women, and the different forms (un)happiness takes — what they think happiness might look like. But they are about youngish women — Wurzbacher is observant, but limited. I couldn't help but think that these stories embraced a relatively naive view of love, death, relationships, happiness.

That said, I'm not a big fan of short stories in general; I think it's hopelessly difficult to pull off a satisfactory resolution to a short story. Wurzbacher at least kept me reading, while inside I might have been stewing about how she has so much yet to learn — in life, if not about writing. I look forward to reading full-length work from her in a couple decade's time.
She brought him with her to carry the machinery, and that was where it began: the two of them twisted between flannel-lined sleeping bags. He often brought along a case of beer, and on one particular night, she had drunk too much and he just enough, and they made — not love but a kind of rough sketch of it, like a rehearsal.

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