If you're looking for a good book for your Thanksgiving holiday reading, I cannot recommend this book highly enough:
I've admired the work of author Leslie Pietrzyk for many years now. My sister was the first to know her, as their work circles intersected in Alexandria, Virginia. I loved her first book Pears on a Willow Tree, but this book is even more amazing, in terms of what she's managed to do in pushing the short story form and the linked short story form--she does all of this, while also creating highly readable stories.
The stories follow the trajectory of a woman whose husband has unexpectedly and suddenly died at a very young age early in the marriage. It may sound like a morbid premise for a book, but it's not--sad, yes, in spots, but also funny and full of insight.
She adopts a variety of approaches in these stories: a craft lecture, a list, a very very short story, a quiz, and of course, traditional short stories. It's both experimental and familiar.
It's made me want to revisit all of my linked short stories. It might be fun to rewrite some of them in different, experimental forms and see what happens.
For those of us interested in the art of putting together a collection of linked short stories, don't miss this interview with Pietrzyk. She says, "So the selection of stories was important for me as well as their exact arrangement. I needed to signal early on that there would be some experimentation (so the first story is a list told in the second person) but I also wanted to reassure a nervous reader, which meant that a traditional (though short) story immediately followed. As I put together the collection, I kept asking myself what the role of each story was, what it accomplished in the bigger picture, and once that was my question, it became easier for me to see where I might have been repeating myself…and when it was time to yank something out."
Her writing/revision process was influenced by many different artists, from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried to Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, along with visual artists like Mark Rothko and the “'tin foil shrine' housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a mysterious and glorious work of visionary art that James Hampton worked on for fourteen years in a garage; it was found after his death."
This kind of interview, with its attention to the craft involved in putting together a collection of linked short stories, makes me wonder if there's a book out there that addresses the subject. I'd love to see a collection of interviews like this one, interviews which shed light on the process and inspire.
So, read This Angel on My Chest. You may think that it's the wrong book for Thanksgiving, but it's not. It may inspire you to remember all the reasons why you love the ones you do--and to tell them, before it's too late. It will fill you with gratitude for all sorts of things, from the perfect Spaghetti alla Carbonara to the fact that the heart can expand to love again.
And if you need the recipe for the perfect Spaghetti alla Carbonara, go to Leslie's website. Her website is another inspiration--all writers' websites should aspire to this kind of web presence.
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