Sue @ Whispering Gums pointed out that she liked my post about Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston in which I stated I was not writing a review in the true sense, but more my experience reading the book. To be honest, because my brain is so engaged with school, maintaining a semblance of cohesion while weighing aspects of a book is proving a struggle. So, here is another post about my reading experience, this time with the short story collection Strange Weather by Becky Hagenston (she/her).
The first story, “Trafalgar,” has familiar people. Maybe not exactly their choices, but these brief, self-conscious human moments. A young American woman wanted to vacation in London with her married lover at her side. But when his daughter — the woman’s good friend, in fact — is in a horrible car accident, he stays home with his family. Instead, the woman takes her mother, who is touristy and doesn’t want to drink in pubs all day (something the daughter wants to do to not look like a tourist). The mother is best friends with the lover’s wife, and the whole story you’re wondering if the affair will come out. I enjoyed watching the small, people details unroll in this story, such as comparing the mother’s and daughter’s shoes. One looks like gauche American (white Nikes) while the other attempts posh European (all black).
While I enjoyed “Trafalgar,” I wondered where the “strange” from the book title would come in. The next story delivered with a tale of a wife who grows tomatoes and a husband who flies his plane over this same strip of water just in case anyone needs help. He’s not without cause:
Just last month, a cruise ship full of chefs had sunk, and if Ronald hadn’t been flying his plane right then, they all would have drowned. The ocean was strewn with herbs and vegetables and chefs, bobbing frantically and screaming, waving spatulas and corkscrews.
There was a low-key silliness to this story that I enjoyed. I found I kept smiling, but the smile disappeared in “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow.” The title references the names the narrator attempts to give a cat she and her boyfriend, both thieves, found. He has funny feelings about things and says if the cat doesn’t have a name in a certain number of days, something bad will happen. And it does.
The collection continues like that: funny, dark, funny, dark, sometimes funny and dark. I always found myself happy to be reading Hagenston’s collection. I even saw myself and Biscuit in one story when an estranged father calls up his daughter and tells her they are going camping. She says she doesn’t camp, to which he replies, “Sure you do. . . . Remember that time in Virginia? When you were six?” To be fair to Biscuit, she typically asks if I remember a person and when I say “no,” she insists I do because it’s someone who held me as a baby (love you, Biscuit!).
I have several more posts of short story collections ahead. I’m in the mood for them, they read fairly fast (so I can keep up with my posting schedule that I like), and Press 53 has a great masthead that chooses stuff you don’t see elsewhere.
CW: ableism, animal death, self-harm (eating disorder)