This story collection is already part of a story. Kathleen Collins died almost 30 years ago and this collection was published last month. Like other posthumous books, the very book has a story to it. Apparently her work was found by her daughter and it goes from there. Something about a book written not necessarily for publication and not in a weird kind of gravedigging way has an appeal to me. Obviously some books that fall into this category are just bad, where the death is the only thing about it, or they were unfinished and should have been left alone, or they are interesting but not good. Others like this one, like A Confederacy of Dunces, like much of Kafka, like Breece D.J Pancake, we are simply better off having than not having.
So the fact that these stories are short for the most part and often experimental, one of the types of books I tend not to like, does not bother me. There’s a playfulness in someone writing these not knowing if they’ll be published or not and there’s a non-ego kind of thing happening. When a well known writer, like Margaret Atwood, does this it feels like a kind of literary hostage taking. These books cost $20 and libraries will buy them and the author will publish them and a lot of the times they might be charming, but hold nothing in them. In other cases, you have an older writer or public figure taking the advances out of future writers’ hands (this is how it works in my imagination and not in reality, but this it what feels like to me), and that is that.
So to have a book that is full of these stories, produced in earnest, and published like this feels different. These are a different kind of story too. Most of these stories are about relationships between men and women, or between friends. There’s coating of racial tension and racial interplay throughout most, sometimes applied with eyeliner and sometimes with a spray can, depending on the story. Many of them feel nostalgic or elegiac, but because this was written 30 years they have a somewhat different feel. Rather than thinking of old memories, now gone…a baby boomer’s loss….these are written by someone not much older than me (35) about a slightly earlier time in their life. These are still the same kind of stories written back in the 80s, because they were, but with the trick of having waited to be read. These stories are also way more like Grace Paley experimental than anything too radical, so if you like her work, here you go.