I am certainly the kind of person who judges a book by its cover, in the literal sense. It is my personal belief that if I like their writing I will most likely also like their taste (or the publishing company’s taste for that sake) in cover art. So far, this has only failed me 5% of the time, so I consider it safe. This is not to say I buy the book blindly without even the back summary. It more so determines whether I pick up the book in the first place.
I was only barely passing the first couple displays of books at The Strand Bookstore in New York when I saw this tiny, little pamphlet of a book; Women by Chloe Caldwell. It looked so precious with its size and classically simple design. But I’ll be honest, the title alone would have sold me.
“Women is a novella that explores an affair and the aftermath between two women nineteen years apart. The book is about the blurred line of female friendship, about being a daughter, a mother, a woman, and a friend. It’s an urgent recall of a heartbreak and a stark identity in crisis. “
Recently understanding myself as a queer woman, this book felt like a well needed mirror welcoming my experiences, doubts, and joys. Written much like a journal after a specifically important event, moments are remembered in a generally, but not altogether truly, chronological order. An honesty only “fiction” can provide, portrays the mind of a young woman experiencing new thoughts, feelings, and situations. This novella, easily read in a day or two, feels both like a summation of an event, but also like the compilation of all the thoughts had by Chloe during and after her relationship.
Although no relationship is the same, the messiness, complexity and delicacy of this particular relationship speaks to larger truths of how we interact with each other; be it platonic or romantic. Personally, finding the experience relatable on many different levels made this novella one of my favorite contemporary works.
The Most of It
Thanks to references made in Women by Chloe Caldwell, I have been reading a collection of works by some amazing contemporary writers. One of whom is Mary Ruefle. Her collection of fiction titled The Most of It compiles an incredibly various selection of personal thoughts, feelings, and incredible creations. What I love so deeply about short stories is their allowance to cut directly to the truth. I do not mean to say every short story deals with incredibly important or deep ideas, but rather that there is an understanding that any and all material deemed non-vital can be ignored without fuss. I feel like the author has more freedom to mold and create without worry of misunderstanding. Ideas are less clouded, memories more direct, creations more imaginative.
The selection in The Most of It is a wonderful example of this tendency. There were four stories that got to me the most. With the very first story, Mary Ruefle expresses a deep desire, every time snow falls, to have sex. She can not fully explain why she always has this desire, yet she goes on to clarify how this would work and what the parameters would be. Her final words made me love this book from the beginning:
“…part of the snow, which is falling with such straw fast devotion to the ground all the anxiety: the world seems gone, the world seems deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms of my lover, yes when it snows like this I feel the whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.”
‘The Diary Farm’ and ‘The Most of It’ (the story for which the collection derives its name), are both fantastical in their depiction of fiction scenarios. The first describes growing up on a diary farm (yes, not a dairy farm, a diary farm) from the perspective of a child who has now grown up. Common plots of coming of age, nostalgia, and a lost childhood are sifted through a new perspective. Instead of cattle in the barn, there are journals and diaries that need tending, reading, and considering. This sweet story put a smile on my face from the very first line. Similarly, ‘The Most of It’ humorously describes a common interaction that has a touch of fantasy. A little niece tells of her aunt whose profession is to sew dresses in a storefront window. She is the ideal woman to women and men alike, yet never marries. She writes letters to her sister. Her handwriting is so large however that these letters must be laid out on the sidewalk and read from the roof. The niece loves these moments for the opportunity to curl up into each ‘O.’
“Aunt Miel’s life utterly exposed to the world, while the children below couldn’t care a jot, and were happy and safe and warm, just finding a letter they could crawl into and call their own.”
I love the way something so simplistically fantastical could provide more truth on an experience or event than the telling of the event in realistic detail. Displaying something through a new lens, with new objects, characters, or happenings can still so fully encompass its referent. If ‘The Most of It’ were only a story of an unmarried aunt whose letters to her sister were read aloud to her distracted niece, the mix of naiveté and vulnerability would be much harder to find. Mary Ruefle is a master of short story fiction. Her words, flowing rapidly and stealthily across each page, filling each line with stream of conscious nuances and sudden thoughts, craft a most intriguing truth.
As for the fourth story I loved in the collection, I did a show based on one of its quotes:
SHUT UP KISS ME
Angel Olsen has never been known for an unspoken sense of sass; until now. With her second debut single from her forthcoming album MY WOMAN, Olsen steps away from her loner-in-the-corner role of albums past and into the faded neon light of an abandoned roller rink.
Both reserved and dramatic, this tinsel haired queen, is clearly happy with her new found sense of initiative. Nearly comfortable in this role of boss, the moment of fullest frustration rings true to the power and vulnerability of Angel Olsen’s music.
“I could make it all disappear
You could feed me all of your fears
We could end all this pain right here
We could rewind all of those tears
I could take it down to the floor
You don’t have to feel it anymore
A love so real that it can’t be ignored
It’s all over baby but I’m still young
I’m still young”
The music video, directed by Angel Olsen herself, is a masterpiece of measured self confidence, humor, pain, and glam. Wonderfully summed up, the video ends with Olsen asking the cameraman, ““Um, do I need to give more attitude, or…?”