Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Come to Me by Amy Bloom

There was awhile in the mid-nineties, right when I was working in publishing during which it seemed like every work of fiction started with a Surprise! A kind of shock and awe strategy for prose. And sometimes it worked, sometimes it felt silly. But Amy Bloom, whose short story collection, Come to Me, has one of my favorite short stories, "Silver Water" in it, is one of the better Surprise! wielders.

Case in point, the first sentence of the first story, "Love is Not a Pie," goes like this: "In the middle of the eulogy at my mother's boring and heart-breaking funeral, I began to think about calling off the wedding." In a surprise-story gone wrong, this would be the most original moment of the story and the rest would be a relationship gone astray, birth in the midst of death kind of story. But in this story calling off the wedding turns out to be the frame that starts and ends the story, but the most startling, original, disturbing, fascinating information is gradually dispensed in the middle (and mostly has to do with the narrator's parents). Middles don't get enough attention in teaching as far as I'm concerned. This is because it's far easier to teach what a beginning does and what an end does...much harder to explain how to keep interest in the middle. Anyway in this case, the story goes back in time and a secret is gradually revealed, and at the same time, the effects of this secret are also revealed. So mostly I think middles take the reader both backwards and forwards in characters' that we have a full understanding of the characters. Middles are largely about stages of revelation, I suppose.

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