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  • Shanley McConnell

The Monday Review: Week Eleven


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1. Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses, Bret Anthony Johnston


Winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Short Story Award, Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses is as sincere as it is poignant. It tells vignettes about Atlee Rouse, his wife, his daughter, the crippled boy who comes to their farm once to ride a horse, how it was that a carousel statue was nailed to the wall of their farm house, what it was like to think back on eighty years of life. It discusses cancer, family and routine.


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2. A Sheltered Woman, Yiyun Li


Winner of the 2015 Sunday Times Short Story Award is Yiyun Li's A Sheltered Woman. The narrative follows Auntie Mei who, over the course of her adult life, had worked for a hundred and twenty-six employers. She lived with the family of a newborn Baby for a single month, giving the mothers advice and support in raising the little one. She did not grow attached, and wanted nothing more than to leave no mystery or damage behind. She willed that no one in this world would be disturbed by having known her. Perhaps this is what happens in A Sheltered Woman. Even so, a mother's indifference to Baby one hundred and thirty-one affects her, in the way that all the other mothers, however distanced they might have been, had never, or rather, could not be.


This is a beautifully-written story, found online at the Short Story Award website.


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3. Big Week, Zadie Smith


I read five Zadie Smith short stories this week, all of which were published in her collection titled. Grand Union. I've chosen to highlight "Big Week" because it was the most recent one in mind. The others are listed as follows: "The Dialectic," "Sentimental Education," "The Lazy River," "Words and Music."


To provide a brief synopsis, "Big Week" shares moments in Michael McCrae's week----one in which he is expected to move out of the house he'd shared with his wife for thirty years. The narrative is rather unassuming and engages few voices, and yet, it certainly reads with a sort of soft eloquence. I think my favorite part of the story is at the beginning, when Tommy McCrae visits his father to find that "his adult self, his city self-----who only this morning had been confidently discussing the genius of Cindy Sherman with the adult children of lawyers and doctors----now shrank and slipped away, too be replaced by an earlier incarnation: the shy, suburban, middle son, hiding his eyes behind his hair," p. 138.


This was my first introduction to Smith, and I would be interested in reading a novel/novella by her come the future.


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4. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert


Where do I begin with this gorgeous book? It was mesmerizing, in all sense of the word: ethereal. It is the kind of book to read when you feel uninspired, stuck and alone in expression.


I listened to Gilbert's version on Audible; walking to and from the library, curled up with a cup of tea, coking with new recipes, during an early morning gym session. It was often a rest for the midday.


Big Magic and its author advocate for creativity as something that is softly paradoxical. She writes:


“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything."

--- Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear


Her encouragement following this: to calm down and get back to work.


Realistic about perfectionism and 'the artist's way,' Gilbert's book talks about creativity as found in the peace & overflow of generosity.


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