This is the first time I’ve featured short stories as a Fargate From The Madding Crowd read of the fortnight, but these are superb and I couldn’t resist sharing them with you. Let me know what you make of them.
We have a reader review of last week’s sweltering read, The Summer That Melted Everything. And a profile of a local author, Barnsley-born Jane Sanderson. Get in touch via email email@example.com or twitter @AnnaCaig with Sheffield literary connections, a problem that I can solve with the right book, or with a reader review.
Interpreter Of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Interpreter Of Maladies is a collection of stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, a British-born writer living in America, and the daughter of West Bengali Indian-born parents. Her stories span these three continents with mastery.
This first story in the collection, A Temporary Matter, is the star of the show. A stunningly moving, beautifully written study of a troubled marriage. The couple are afforded respite from their relationship troubles through a series of power cuts that force them to communicate with each other in the absence of other distractions.
It’s an arresting meditation on the hindrance that modern technology and conveniences can be to our relationships with the people we love. The short stories I enjoy are usually based around an interesting, often gruesome or supernatural, concept. It is the idea behind the story that grips me, as I often find the brevity of the form to be a barrier to emotional engagement. In this story, Lahiri completely turns my previous experience on its head. By the end of A Temporary Matter I was sobbing. It is difficult to put your finger on how a writer successfully enables a real, heartfelt connection between their characters and the reader. Lahiri certainly has a way with description; you immediately see the people in her stories in three dimensions. But I think the real key here is that she is a master of ‘just enough’. Her writing, although vivid, is beautifully simple. The reader is left to fill in the emotional blanks.
And while A Temporary Matter is the stand-out offering, all of the stories in this collection are excellent. There isn’t a duff one among them. All killer, no filler. Several of them deal with immigrants living in a new place, far from their home, and explore the difficulties, the excitement, the awkwardness, the potential, and the confusion of their situations. Lahiri’s writing places the reader well and truly in the shoes, particularly in an emotional sense, of her characters.
I came away thinking if only we all read books like this, wouldn’t that go a long way towards overcoming mistrust and misunderstandings between people? You can’t see someone as the ‘other’ when you’re seeing what they’re seeing, and feeling what they’re feeling.
Read them for the insight into different life experiences, or read them for the beautiful writing. Just read them.
The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
Jackie Law said: The Summer That Melted Everything is an exquisitely written tale of prejudice and herd mentality. Set in the town of Breathed, Ohio, during the long, hot summer of 1984, it centres on the Bliss family.
Autopsy Bliss is a respected lawyer. His wife is a loving mother to their two sons. These boys, Grand and Fielding, have enjoyed their small town life. All is about to change.
The story is told from Fielding’s point of view, looking back on the summer he was thirteen years old from seventy years in the future. The events he recounts created a lasting darkness within him.
At the beginning of the summer Autopsy places an advertisement in the local newspaper inviting the devil to come to Breathed. A small and ragged boy named Sal responds. Fielding takes the boy home; it was, after all, his father who extended the invitation. Fielding is intrigued by the young stranger who speaks with wisdom beyond his years.
The Bliss family welcome Sal but the townsfolk are less accepting, especially their neighbour who whips up suspicion, blaming Sal for a series of misadventures. As the heat causes crops and tempers to fail, the townspeople’s concerns bubble over into something more sinister.
The imagery is stunning, the prose lyrical, but the mood conjured is overwhelmingly bleak. It feels as though Sal and then Fielding shoulder the weight of the world.
This powerful and unflinching depiction of intolerance, petty cruelty and casual hate is brilliant but harrowing - a brooding, breathtaking read.
Literary City: The Sheffield Connection
Jane Sanderson is a Barnsley-born former journalist and BBC producer turned author. Her latest book, This Much Is True, is a gripping novel about the shocking secret at the centre of a family, and a mother desperate to keep it hidden.
Sanderson is open about the enormous part that her childhood home plays in the books that she now writes.
“Memories of my childhood in Hoyland inform everything that I write. I find I can immediately inhabit my characters when they’re from the area where I grew up.
“Annie, the central character in This Much Is True, is clearly from South Yorkshire.
“Obviously people in Hoyland are not all the same.
“But they are cut from the same cloth.
They are doughty and full of integrity. My mum and dad still live in the house I grew up in, so I know the area has changed a lot - you don’t see the winding gear and the pit heads anymore.
“But I still feel very connected, and it keeps drawing me back in.”
And what inspired the story behind This Much Is True? “Well, it is a story of family secrets. But also of friendships.
I was inspired by the long walks I take with my dog and my friends. I am interested in the things we tell each other, and the things we don’t tell each other.
“Sheffield readers will be able to spot the locations of some of the dog walks in the book. There’s one in Ecclesall woods for example.
“To be honest, I can’t imagine writing a book that wasn’t at least partially set in my home town. The humour, and the way of seeing the world, runs so deep in me.”
Sanderson has also written a series of historical novels, starting with Netherwood, a Downton Abbey-esque story of coal mining baron Lord Hoyland and his family.
Sanderson is a voracious reader herself.
“I love reading, and well as writing, historical fiction. I am a big fan of Hilary Mantel.
She makes you feel as though Cromwell could walk into the room at any moment.”
“And I am reading everything by an author from Manchester called Carol Birch.
She writes in a way that is completely accessible, but you learn such a lot. She should be better known.”
What is Sanderson planning next, as a follow up to This Much Is True?
“It will be a love story on a global scale. But it still contains a young couple who grew up in Sheffield.”
It’s true; she really can’t escape her motherland.
* This Much Is True was released on 1 June, and is available to buy in paperback and ebook.