16 March 2011

Other People We Married (Emma Straub)

I am writing around my own head today--sleep, elusive at the best of times, has been a particularly harsh mistress this past week, and last night I managed to both spill Benadryl all over myself AND take twice as much as I meant to, so I feel like death warmed over, a non-bloggish state of mind. I believe this is what they call a "first world problem."

Still, I can't let my case of ick (used as a metaphor and not the yes-it's-really-called-that fish disease) keep me from putting a forth a happy, purring, sunshiny endorsement of Emma Straub's short story collection Other People We Married. And I am not just saying this because she has been impossibly sweet on the few occasions we have met, or because she makes the BEST brownies (and you can, too!)--these are just the sprinkles on the icing of the writerly cake. (Yum.)

Because she's one of those writers who makes me want to use the word "formidable," but then reconsider because that is far too forceful a word for the slyly humorous ease with which she writes. Like many of my favorite short stories, these do not have earthshaking stakes, and that's how I like it: ordinary moments, Aristotelian unities, crystalline ending sentences that mean you have to put the book down and look at something else for a while before you start the next piece, just to let them settle into your brain, make some hot tea, and put their feet up. Where it's not all Benadryl-hangover up there, it is Emma-sentence-tiffin-town, believe me.

Some of my favorite details reminded me of myself (not sure if this means I'm an egomaniac or that the characters are relatable? likely six-a-one-half-dozen-of-tother)--the TA in "Some People Must Really Fall In Love" with a hopeless and embarrassing crush on a freshman in her intro to creative writing class (oh, Scott, high school guest student of mine six years back, 17 at the most but a better flirt than I was); the woman in "Rosemary" who points out to her husband that she's been sleeping with the eponymous cat for ten years longer than she'd been sleeping with him (15 years for me, one reason it's so distressing Julie has taken to wandering the apartment yowling at night rather than curling up next to me like she used to); the bird-watching widow in "Marjorie and the Birds" who "send[s] her check in the mail with a slip of paper wrapped around it. It was the sort of thing her children made fun of her for, but Marjorie liked to do things properly"--oh yeah, I absolutely do that, as I learned from my own mother, and the older I get, the more things I mocked her for in my callow youth that I find myself espousing as Sensible and Meticulous.

The collection also gives me a chance to stump for a weensy indie press, which I theoretically love to do but often fail in the follow-through. It's one of the first two books published by FiveChapters, whose website features a short story in five parts every week (the other is Nobody Ever Gets Lost by Jess Row, who read with Emma at McNally-Jackson the night I bought the book and ate the brownies). Buy them both and the shipping is free! Because indie press folks are sweet like that.

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