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What We’re Reading
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’ve been reading Something Childish But Very Natural, a collection of Katherine Mansfield’s short writings lead by the story of the same name. “Something Childish…” is a weird little impressionistic gem of a story, much more complex than its giddy true-love-at-first-sight opening would have you think. When teenaged Edna and Henry meet on a train, I expected there’d be a long frustration of feelings before either Henry would grow a pair or Edna would part her much-hyped marigold-colored veil of hair to confess her attraction. Instead, by their second train ride together, they’ve both said that they’re in love. The story’s question becomes, then, not what the young couple feel or whether they can brave admitting it, but what to do next. Here’s where things get complicated, particularly for Edna, who fears what will happen should Henry touch her in any way at all. The ending of “Something Childish…” is something I guarantee you won’t see coming, and that I’m still trying to wrap my head around, but seems perfectly apt for the strange trajectory this takes. I’d say more but I don’t want to ruin it—and if you have read it, and you were also confused and satisfied both by that thing with the thing at the end, let’s talk.
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): I seem to be on a genocide kick and have just read two amazing debut novels about two horrific conflicts, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, set in Chechnya, and Ismet Prcic’s Shards, about Bosnia. While very different in style and tone, both novels are beautifully written and heartbreaking and somehow manage to depict the atrocities of war while conveying a sense of the absurdity that pervades these situations. (For example, in Marra’s book, a doctor who has not had any news of the outside world in years confuses Ronald McDonald for Ronald Reagan. When he learns who Ronald McDonald is, he is horrified by the idea of people eating hamburgers cooked by a clown. Given the circumstances he’s been living under, his reaction to this information creates a moment of humor, and, well, he does have a point.) But more importantly, these books made me realize that despite the news stories I heard and the statistics I read and my understanding that a lot of people were dying somewhere far away, I knew very little about the actual people who experienced those wars. These novels reminded me that one of the biggest reasons I read fiction is to learn about the lives of others, especially lives so completely different from my own. That said, I should probably take a break from genocide novels and read something about kittens and rainbows, if anyone has any suggestions.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): It’s fitting that I most often find Shirley Jackson in the form of torn paperbacks, on crowded shelves in the back of dusty bookstores. Once, on a post-college dropout road trip, I discovered novel after novel in nearly every tiny coastal bookstore I stepped into. Jackson’s stories feel at place in unconventional settings. Disturbing and oddly wry, her writing examines conformity in a manner so precise as to appear almost fetishistic.
A few weeks ago, while walking the long way to lunch (read: avoiding someone), I ducked into a used bookstore and bought a copy of The Road Through the Wall (1948). Jackson’s first novel takes place in a middle class community of families who strive to move beyond the wall that separates them from their wealthier neighbors. Of course, the pleasant domesticity functions as a façade for something darker and it’s only a matter of time before tragedy strikes. I’m only a third of the way through—the promised fatalities have yet to occur—but The Road Through the Wall, is a slow-brewing tale that promises the standard Jackson terror.