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Two issues of One Story

Here we have two character studies with very different settings -- and I think one puts the other firmly in the shade.

Issue 101: 'Familial Kindness' by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum (2008)

Alma and Sara were sisters who led very different lives: Sara married Charlie, moved to Indiana, and severed most of her ties to Alma, who stayed in the family home even after their parents died. Now Alma's daughter Lovisa (the father is a nameless fling from years before) is getting married; Sara has died from cancer, but Alma invites Charlie (whom she hasn't seen for thirty years and is not too bothered about seeing again) out of courtesy. The story begins as Charlie arrives at Alma's house, and the subsequent thirty pages are essentially them (particularly Alma) reflecting on the choices they've made in life.

I haven't much else to say about 'Familial Kindness', unforturnately. It's not a bad story by any means; but it didn't really grab me, or stay in my mind. The characterisation is fine; the story just doesn't... say as much (overtly or otherwise) as I;d have liked.

Issue 102: 'What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us' by Laura van den Berg (2008)

Perhaps the best explanation is a comparison, because I found this story to be much richer. Celia (who must be in her late teens or thereabouts as the story begins) has ambitions to be a professional swimmer; but her mother June, a primatologist, keeps dragging her off on her study expeditions. The latest is to Madagascar, to test June's ideas about the relationship between lemurs and reforestation -- but the relationship between mother and daughter will also be tested, and to the limit.

Van den Berg's depiction of the two women is acutely observed: June is a larger-than-life character, whose life is so dominated by her work that everything else comes second -- including Celia and, ironically, the real point of the work; June seems to care more about using her work to validate herself than about the fate of the animals she studies. As for Celia, it's no surprise that she doesn't share her mother's passion for science when June insists on drumming into her pointless lists like famous scientists who committed suicide ('she said I needed to understand the toll answering important scientific questions could take on a person' -- and, oh, how June demonstrates that toll in her own way). It's great to see the daughter break free and start finding her own way over the course of the story.

I read in the back of the magazine that Laura van den Berg has a story collection coming out next year. If only it weren't such a long time away.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 5th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
I'm going through all of these old posts and adding tags (author names) to each, and amazingly enough -- I FINALLY subscribed to One Story this month, because an advertisement came in the mail. So it is now March of 2010, and I am finally reading a magazine you recommended in the spring of 2008. Good things come to those who wait!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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