I’m very late posting this. Give me slap on the wrist, please, because I ate up this collection on VICTORIA DAY when real, honest-to-god sunshine was just starting to exist again. I didn’t know how badly I needed that warmer weather until it was halfway through the weekend. My whole body finally relaxed, coaxed into a slothy laziness I hadn’t experienced in a long long time. Thankfully, the summer has been an ongoing stretch of lovely weather, but at the time I really needed that reminder of summer simplicity: a camp fire, a barbecue, a patio, Peterborough and cottage country (aka: home). I got all of that on Victoria Day weekend, and just happened to be carrying Andrew Forbes’ new short story collection from Invisible Publishing along for the day. What You Need was the perfect compliment for this kind of beachy weekend, though it’s much more of a layered, visceral “anti-beach read” meant to make you stop and let it all sink in.
Andrew Forbes‘ debut collection begins like you’ve just asked the quiet guy in the corner to tell you a story, and he does, without fanfare or flourish, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He just let’s the words unfold, and it’s somehow the most interesting thing you’ve heard all week. Forbes is a quiet, humble dude in the corner, and his thoughtful stories seem to flow effortlessly from him (this is also probably a solid nod to Invisible’s excellent editorial team). These stories are well worth hearing.
I need miniature heartbreaks and little bursts of high school nostalgia (I Was A Willow). I need bold reminders of my small town (Jamboree). I also need (love and appreciate) more stories that don’t assume I’m a total moron who won’t “get it” if the moral of the story isn’t flashing in front of me in neon lights. And – cue publishing geek-out moment – I need more beautiful little books from Invisible, whose style and substance never let me down. Honestly, Leigh, if you wanna send me your front and backlist, I’d happily dedicate a whole shelf to those beauties.
Firstly, I should say that this title is amazing. While I was reading it (and toting it around town) I’d get comments from men of all ages that usually went like, “Well hey ho! Maybe I should get me a copy of that! snicker, snicker” And I would always smile and say, “yeah you should” while thinking you’d have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. So for those men and whoever else is swayed by a curious title, How To Get Along With Women is not, in fact, a manual about women socialization. Instead, it is the debut collection of stories from Elisabeth de Mariaffi.
I’ve said this before, but when you start a short story, it’s often up for grabs where in the world you’ll end up…in what character’s mind frame, or in the middle of whose twisted ideas. Short stories have the ability to begin and end wherever they please rather than a novel who is more prescribed to a notable beginning and ending. Mariaffi’s stories are really wonderful for that. They like to play around with narrative, as though you’re standing in line and the person behind you starts telling you their life story. It’s like you’re inserted into the life of someone and they take off, bringing in thoughts and histories from a different time to flavour the tale with context. In De Mariaffi’s collection, the protagonists are often female (hence the title) and focus on relationships between these women + others, whether it’s their children, lovers, fathers, friends or men as a species. More often than not, when I finished a story, I would forget that these people were made up based on how much I seemed to know about them. Characters explain moments of weaknesses, of regret, or they explore the points in their lives that made a significant impact. Mariaffi is extremely thorough in her scrutiny and chooses her anecdotes wisely so that they allow their subjects to bloom.
Field Work, Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man On Earth and Ajaccio Belonged to the Genoese were among my favourites in the collection. Tampering with themes of love, religion, and sexuality, Mariaffi’s writing is biting and captivating. I enjoyed her writing because it explored experiences in a way that I haven’t read before. What may pass as a simple anecdote is actually wonderfully layered as she builds stories about a world of different kinds of people. Cliches are non-existent here and where they could have been, they are replaced by a curious kind of insight that nudges it’s way under your skin and settles there.