I allowed myself a good, satisfying minute of deep resentment.
The women in Sara Schaff’s second collection of stories face and often wonder at their former selves, are plagued by the aftermath of their decisions, long for who they could have been, wonder how they can still be, fight the shifts of time as years slip through their exhausted fingers, and try to make sense of love. Pivotal moments are sometimes dull, other times ugly and filled with betrayal.
In Affective Memory a woman recalls her short-lived relationship with a man named Luke and the ‘particular pain of this receding moment’. The contradictory emotions that plague us when what we have slips away and we grieve it even if we don’t want it. The title story The Invention of Love delves into a strange incident one night at a party and its tie to an art student’s hunger to create something meaningful. She is loaded with envy for the true genius in her lithography class and maybe wants his attention? Something Else is a ‘grad school coming-of-age story’, a tale of being over educated and under employed. Big things are happening for one friend, while others are settling to the bottom.
House Hunting after the loss of their mother, who died in the very place she herself hated, always wanted ‘someplace prettier’ siblings Diane and Toby must decide what to do with the smelly, eyesore that is their pitiful inheritance. Overwhelmed by shame and guilt, Diane escapes by house hunting for gorgeous homes she will never live in and makes a surprising decision in the end. We Are Ready is about much younger siblings and their grief at having to leave their home in the country for the confinement of the city and their sad mother’s unbearable reality.
West Lake an expat must deal with the looming birth of her daughter in the midst of her husband’s infidelity. She chooses to walk out of her life, to deny her husband the vision of her most naked and animal self. What feels like revenge could be self-discovery and a fresh outlook. Noreen O’Malley at the Sunset Pool is the cost and weight of poor decisions, a young woman realizes that wanting a thing to be true doesn’t make it so.
Our Lady of Guazá Sisters, Marcela and Valentina born to different fathers fight over their dead mother’s jeans in Bogotá, but more it is what the jeans seem to represent. My Husband’s Second Wife is my favorite, it is beautiful and raw. Anger, admiration, the glamour of the very woman who has stolen the narrator’s husband is impossible to resist… but why are the works of Tolstoy ‘like a brick’ to her? This story has the makings of a full novel, the things Schaff could explore. It’s funny how betrayal creates connections.
Claire Tells A Story is about escaping the tediousness of one’s own life by sinking into the tales of someone else’s more ‘colorful’ existence. The All Clear is about an artist who isn’t creating anymore, stagnating, too tired with the demands of survival (family, work) to even remember who she was when she finished the work in her old portfolio.
The End of Workshop is about the strange envy a successful professor feels towards his female student who strays from his assignment with an idea of her own. The Man Running the Hiring Committee is how women are disqualified in the hiring process, but it’s not sexism, sure. Everyone Gets It a copywriter throws her hat in the ring for a job, deals with the heavy weight of politics during the 2016 election while fighting the misogamy in her office, and waits to win… and waits… and waits.
These stories have one thing in common, the unreliability of life. Who doesn’t face that at some stage on their journey? The big moments often sneak in through our missteps, it’s what we do after that matters. Even if it’s just stepping back to reflect.
Published June 15, 2020