Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Middle Stories (See magazine, 2001) by Alan Reed

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Writer Sheila Heti thought he unique tales would be shunned

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The last of The Middle Stories was written on May 1, 2000. They range in subject matter from the co-habitation of the poet and the novelist, to the little old lady who’s moving out of a shoe. The tales are all very short. They are the sort of stories you would read to children before tucking them into bed for the night, if you wanted them to wrestle with existential angst before falling asleep. That’s the sort of fairy tales these stories are.

It’s hard to describe them beyond that. They are all very short. They start somewhere and end somewhere else. The end is usually not far from the start and there doesn’t seem to be very much of a reason to have gone from the one place to the other. And there isn’t usually very much in between the two places either–just the dull kinds of things that happen everyday.

But it’s somehow very interesting how little is going on. Sheila Heti has a way of writing about dull everyday things. She knows that there’s more to the mundane than how they seem–there are all the things that go unsaid but that still simmer just under the surface, and distort the way things happen without seeming to. She knows these nuances well, and they’re what she writes about. She doesn’t bother with semblances, either. Her writing is an excavation of all those hidden things–she digs them up, puts them on display, and makes them speak for themselves.

In one tale, there is a blind girl who "had the three best days of her life. She met a boy, fell in love, lay out in the sunshine and held his hand and kissed, and fucked behind a video store, and after those three days she had the worst year ever." In another, there is the following exchange in a bar: "‘I suppose you want to talk about events in the world,’ sighed Fritz, with difficulty. ‘No. We want to see if we can become your friends,’ said the hag."

There is a kind of impossible frankness about all these stories. They are strung together out of truths that we don’t care to acknowledge, that we aren’t even aware of most of the time. These are not grand and glorious truths, either, and they’re definitely not the sort of truths that you take solace in. They are the petty little things that no one wants to admit to, the boring things that no one cares to notice–but they are things that are there, that are always there. Sheila Heti taps into this reservoir of unmentionable banalities to tell her stories, and the results are disturbingly amusing. It feels like she prances along, with a smile teasing the corner of her mouth, and she drops precious little nuggets of shit as she goes. It’s the kind of thing that makes you laugh out loud and then hope that this isn’t really what life’s all about.

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