Reading Mending in Albuquerque, New Mexico: getting ready, doing the reading, and drawing some conclusions.
I’m always a little nervous before my first reading from a new book, so far untried by readers although with two wonderful reviews, some of my best (Library Journal, Publishers Weekly) but without the surge of comments that gathers slowly, in the media and in the form of email from strangers and friends, over a period of months. And so I found myself cranky and uncertain until we walked into the delightful bookstore, only a year and a half old, where Richard, the event organizer and a poet in his own right, had invited me to read.
Standing in front of a small, attentive group, I found my voice steadying as I began the first, mystifying paragraphs of “Found,” one of two stories in Mending that are told from the point of view of a young American girl living in Paris. Those first paragraphs are mystifying, intentionally, because they are her view of parents, a house, and a situation she doesn’t understand. She belongs to a family where it is assumed that she understands a great deal (including the meaning of “Commies”—this is a cold war story) and so has learned never to ask questions.
As she gains in confidence, so did I, reading her account of being lost in Paris and finding her way home unaided—and speaking no French; she doesn’t even know the denominations of the coins she has in her pocket, but finds they are more than another to pay for her ride on a bus whose direction and destination she can’t ask.
All short stories, if they are successful, take on a life of their own. In “Found,” the life is the life of infinite discovery, revealed in the course of one wintry afternoon. This is a dark Paris suffering through the devastation that followed the Second World War—a devastation the young narrator has never before witnessed, or even imagined. (At a family dinner party, she saw that the hosts’ children had water in their soup bowls because there wasn’t enough to go around.)
Her discovery became mine as I read, and, I believe, it was a discovery the audience shared; my dear friend, the distinguished writer Margaret Randall, told me later she felt a thrill as the story unfolded and she realized its implications.
Afterwards, driving the seventy miles back to Santa Fe, I was very tired, but it was the good tiredness that comes from work well done and well received.
Thank you,Richard and Alamosa Bookstore, and may all your many readings and events go as well!