Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Forgetting English by Midge Raymond — 164 pgs

Forgetting English: StoriesIn this charged and rousing new collection, author Midge Raymond gives us ten short stories centering around women on the emotional edge who have left the States to pursue adventure and sometimes healing in far-off lands. We meet a woman visiting her sister in Tonga who gets caught up in an illicit and ill-advised relationship that emotionally pits her against her sister, and meet a woman in Tokyo who is aching to relieve the pressure of an unexpectedly painful loss. Another woman is trying to emotionally distance herself from others and decides to choose a career devoted to penguin research in Antarctica, where she becomes complicit to a horrible accident that may not have been an accident at all. A young woman in Taipei is struggling with depression and anxiety that exactly mirrors what her language teacher and new found friend seems to be going through. Traveling the world, one woman finds herself lamenting her lost marriage and considers how putting her work first may have driven her husband away, while a young actress traveling to Hawaii as a nanny for a very wealthy couple frets about her dwindling prospects. In each of these stories, the unnamed women search their new and impermanent surroundings for the things they’ve lost or been forced to give up, and they come to understand the longing they feel cannot be left behind them when they finally return home. Both stylistically simple and deeply poignant, Raymond imbues the women in this collection with both wise self-assessment and heartbreaking reality, giving her readers an intimate peek into the minds of women that run the spectrum from obsessed to heartbroken to isolated.

What I really admired about this collection was that there were great dramatic arches in each tale. Though some of these were internal and more introspective arches, each story had a point where the drama abruptly shifted and became almost crystalline in the tale that was being rendered. There was a sense of these women reaching a turning point in their lives, and Raymond captures the flavor of their fear, uncertainty and hope with a great mixture of understanding and and an almost feral rawness that made me feel connected to the women. I think it was amazing the way each of these women felt so very different, and each had such varied motivations and circumstances. It was, in a way, like reading emotional vignettes on people that were human enough to be recognizable, yet also remained behind a gauze of the unfamiliar.

Part of what ties these women together was the feeling I got that they were all on some point on the path to change. We meet them when they’re fleeing to a new situation, away from messier lives and complications. There was a sense of renewing and reawakening in them, and most of them were reprioritizing their lives in some way. These short stories weren’t just a slice out of everyday life. They had movement and emotional mobility attached to their subjects and their outcomes. It was as if they were just realizing where there physical journeys had landed them, and it was left for the reader to explore just what kind of emotional metamorphosis was going to take place with them individually. In some stories, the tension crackled and spit with a character’s realization that their lives were on the cusp of change, while in some, there was just sort of a gentle surrender to forces greater than themselves.

What I liked about each of the women was their refusal to hide behind emotional facades and be stagnant. Their very situations required some type of resistance and movement, and this they did, seemingly with eagerness. There wasn’t a feeling of hiding out and letting things passively wash over them. Instead, they met their challenges with a willingness that felt somehow brave. I will also say I enjoyed the fact that all of the stories took place on foreign soil. I’m still thinking about how the juxtapositions between their alien environments and their alien situations enveloped and threw each other into relief, and what effect their status as foreign visitors had on their mindsets in relation to the problems they were each facing. It was also interesting to consider the people they came into contact with outside their normal lives and comfort zones, and the fleeting relationships and connections made during these times.

Although I’m not really a connoisseur of short stories, I often find that when I dip into the right collection, I can be very satisfied with the results. I found that when I read this book I was extremely receptive to the shifting locale and the emotional vulnerability of the women whose stories were laid out for me. It was a very promising read, and one that I was able to breeze through in a few short hours. I think that Raymond did a remarkable job with keeping things fresh but not too light for deeper reflection. An interesting collection. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

15 comments:

DCMetroreader said...

I really enjoyed her short stories too when I read this collection.

Sandy Nawrot said...

When short stories are good, they are GOOD. Lahiri is the perfect example of the fact that they don't even need to be happy to sweep you off your feet. I just read another review of this yesterday, and it is sounding like a wonderful read.

TheBookGirl said...

I'm not much for short stories. I'm not sure why, except that it may be related to my preference for really long novels -- I just like to sink my teeth into my fiction I guess, and the "short"ness of stories doesn't let me do that I guess.

If I were to read stories, tho, lol, your review of this collection makes it seem like a good one. The fact that you found something interesting about each of the women and their different narratives says alot for the author.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Penguin research in Antarctica sounds appealing to me. Or research on chimpanzees in Africa maybe. But only in theory. In practice, I would want a nice hotel and good temperatures. Sounds like an interesting collection of stories!

bermudaonion said...

I've found that short stories are perfect when life is really hectic. This collection sounds good to me.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Oh wow, this sounds like a really good book! I am not usually a short short person either. But I am a fan or writings about strong women, and women who never gave up on themselves. This sounds like that kind of book. I also like reading about other countries.
Thanks for the great review!

Geosi said...

There are really nice collection of short stories out there and this seems like one. I often read short stories after a long row of chunksters.

Jenny said...

These sound really thought provoking. I love the experience of being able to relate to other women in some way, even if it's just in sharing similar emotions. This one sounds great!

Paulita said...

I don't usually like short stories, but you make this collection sound very intriguing.

Jenners said...

I like the common thread that holds these stories together. It would have been fun to research all those vacations. And I've been wary of short stories in the past … until I discovered Jhumpa Lahiri.

Aths said...

I'm not a fan of short story collections either, but this one has just the right amount of diversity that it might work. I will have to look for it - the whole bunch of stories are intriguing me. Fabulous review!

Anna said...

I'm glad to see you enjoyed this one. I'm picky about short stories, too, but I really loved this collection.

Amy said...

I'm happy to see you liked this one so much. Interesting thread to the stories, the aspect of change and emotions and being out of the ordinary life. Really sounds neat.

Amy said...

This sounds like an amazing collection of short stories. I like that they are all about women looking for some sort of change in their lives be it emotional, physical, social etc. It sounds like some of them may not have even realized, initially, anyway that they were seeking change.
I always enjoy short story collections and mean to read many more than I do. I love that you review many collections. I think I'm going to start trying to do this. Anyway, thank you for bringing this collection and author to my attention. I'm listing Forgeting English on my tbr 'tome'!

Bea Sempere said...

This sounds great. Congratulations, Midge. I'm adding this to my TBR list.

Nice review Zibilee.

Post a Comment

 
Blogger Template by Delicious Design Studio