Friday, September 23, 2011

Caitlin Horrocks

Caitlin Horrocks lives in Michigan by way of Ohio, Arizona, England, Finland, and the Czech Republic. She is the author of the story collection, This Is Not Your City. Her stories and essays appear in The Best American Short Stories 2011, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, The Pushcart Prize XXXV, The Paris Review, Tin House, One Story and elsewhere. Her work has won awards including the Plimpton Prize, a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Fellowship, and scholarships from the Sewanee Writers' Conference and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony.

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished the short story collection For Sale By Owner by Kelcey Parker. The jacket copy describes these as “tales of twisted domesticity,” and I’d heard Kelcey read one of her stories out loud before I started her book, about a woman who gives up her family for Lent, sleeping at a local motel and eating fish sandwiches at the Hooters down the street. But somehow I still wasn’t fully prepared for how delightfully “twisted” these stories are: the characters have largely achieved the things they thought they wanted, the things they were supposed to want—husband, children, suburban McMansions. But they find themselves dissatisfied: “How had she ended up in this unfamiliar, even unreal, life? She hadn’t, like her daughter, wished to be a mermaid. She had not wished for the impossible.” This is a familiar refrain, in both life and fiction, but Parker strives mightily, and successfully, to make these stories giddily unfamiliar.

In “Domestic Air Quality,” a woman confesses her anxieties to the pages of a market research survey about the air in her home. Another woman lets a company build a road through her head. But the playfulness is always more than gamesmanship—in “The Complete Babysitter’s Handbook,” a series of titled sections (“Attempted Murder, Part I,” “Rob is Greeted With Hugs”) gradually paint a family portrait that is much more complicated than the reader initially guesses.

One of my favorite stories in the book, “I Heard a Fly Buzz,” is just a single page long. In it, a newlywed claims that she bumbled her vows because a fly flew into her mouth at the crucial moment. Her insistence is funny until she confesses that the fly is still there, inside her, “feeding, daily, upon my heart.” The women in Parker’s book make you sit up and notice their humor and originality, and then settle on in, striking at the reader’s heart with all their complex yearning.
Visit Caitlin Horrocks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue