Sometimes you pick up a book even if you have no bleeding clue if it’ll be worth the couple of bucks you shelled out for it. I did this a lot back then, back when I had no notion of TBR-piles toppling, or taking matters into their own hands and just forming their very own land mass. Now, I’m a boring sod who scours the Intarwebz for feedback before I even contemplate buying the book.
One of the books I got in those days of yore was Fault Lines: Stories of Divorce, collected and edited by Caitlin Shetterley. I was a few months into my Creative Writing thesis–a short story collection + poetics essay, which were all about domesticity and the familiar and the mundanely intimate relationships of people blah blah blah–and I needed to read stories that would help me write my own stories for the collection, some literary memory, so to speak. (Even though, technically, divorce isn’t recognized in this country. Hello, Catholics.) The books is about, well, divorce. The stories are categorized into four “parts” — the Prologue (including only one story, John Cheever’s “A Season of Divorce”); What Falls Apart; The Children; and The Afterlife. Among the writers found in this anthology are good ol’ Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Michael Chabon, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, and John Updike, bless his soul. Now, most of these writers, I hadn’t read before. I’d heard of them, almost as though gossip [Did you know Lorrie Moore’s such a talented biatch?] I was most familiar with Beattie’s work–a drunken conversation with a poet concluded with my promise to read her stuff because she’ll, dude, she’ll change your life. The others, as I said, hearsay; occasionally I’d see them on a friend’s shelf, but nothing compelled me to read them.
Until this book fell into my hands. I ordered it from Jasper of Avalon, a website that sells secondhand books, rare books, and the cheapest Moleskines this side of the Pacific [NOTE: this is NOT a shameless plug; Avalon’s such a kick-ass part of my life at this point, haha.] I ordered it on a whim. A whim along the lines of, “Hm, wouldn’t it be nice for a hefty enough book about divorce?”
Let me run you through what I think are noteworthy experiences with them noteworthy stories.
 “The Children Stay” by Alice Munro. This is the first short story of Alice Munro that I read, and that first time got the ball rolling. [And whatever I say next won’t make much sense because I’m trying not to gush too hard, haha.] It’s this quiet little tale of a woman and her husband and their children and the director at the amateur theater and Orphée and Eurydice. And the payphone from where woman calls her husband, and the oh-so-calm negotiations over their children. And the mini-epilogue. Because anybody else would have ended this long long long short story with that phone call right there – but Munro dedicates a couple of paragraphs of dialogue between the mother and her daughter, and damn, it was great. While I was reading it, I was thinking, “Who the hell is this chick, she’s so goddamned audacious?” Thus began my love for the Munro. [And really, isn’t that title kick ass?]
 “Intimacy” by Raymond Carver. Also, the first Raymond Carver story I ever read, and I’ve been in love with this gruff ol’ man ever since. It was strange story, it was really strange, and brief and succinct and simple to the point of utter pain for this Purple Proser. It’s told in the first person, very short lines and very, er, stoic sentence construction. Man visits ex-wife, tries to rehash things. That’s basically it. But the real story is done in such an underhanded way (oh, Carver, you sneaky little fuck), that it took me another reading to fully appreciate it (because the first time I read it, I thought, “It’s a nice story, but it’s so macho.”)
When reading fiction, there’s a part of you that expects the characters to do things and react in a romantic, fiction-worthy way. This story of Carver’s – and most of his other stories I’ve read – slaps that expectation silly. These people are normal, unglamorous – and they’re “fiction-worthy” because they manage to transcend that mundaneness because of all the great secret heartaches they carry with them whether they know it or not — I guess this is why I love these two stories so much, as well as other mentionable in the book: it modified my reading preferences, and it was big influence on how I do my own writing. So, YAY READING.
Mostly, well, I like these. These are good stories, and it makes me feel like The Big Kahuna is smiling down on me. It’s such a surprise, for such an unassuming-looking book. (I mean, I like Matisse as much as the next guy, but that boxed-in book layout isn’t doing it for me. Couldn’t we have just had the whole painting as cover? Just saying.) When you find these little gems, it just feels like something’s just so freaking right with the world. Know what I mean? Am I making sense? Do you want to tell me to go take a Red Bull? Ahem. I guess that’s what I’m trying to point at — sometimes the book in our hands can surprise us, and that surprise goes a long way in restoring my faith in humanity, and the mending/saving/squeal-able power of literature.