Strange Weather by Becky Hagenston

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)

11 comments

  1. The combo of funny/ dark stories appeals to me. When short story collections are all dark I end up feeling like I’ve read many very heavy books.

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    • I might even say that there is a foolish outlandishness to some of the stories, which I enjoy. And then the darker stories are more a frightening reality that perhaps I don’t experience but am disturbed nonetheless.

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  2. I don’t read a lot of short story collections, except the occasional mystery anthology, so I will be interested to see what you make of the ones you read over the next little while.

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    • I’ve learned that the longer the collection, the less I’m likely to enjoy it. I suppose I get tired of re-entering each new story and getting used to it, and on top of that it all comes from the mind of the same author, so there are uncanny similarities in spire of the differences. The books from Press 52 are all about 140 pages or less.

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  3. The image of chefs bobbing up and down in the water waving spatulas around while some oregano floats past them is HILARIOUS. And further to your first point, I think my book reviews are turning into my experiences reading books rather than actual reviews too – I strive to sound like I’m reviewing the book, but I often fall into my experience reading it instead, which I know ‘official’ snobby book critics don’t like, but it’s my blog, not the NY Times, ya know?

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    • True. I used to organize reviews around certain features of a book, like plot, character, pacing, etc. But now I just wander all over as I cover what I was thinking as I was reading.

      I also love the image of the chefs. It’s so comical, and I’m definitely picturing the Swedish chef from the Muppets just yelling “burndy durndy burndy!” as he flails around.

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  4. I was picturing all the chefs, hairdressers and so on ‘sent on ahead’ in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but yes it’s a great image. I don’t read many short stories, but I think ridiculous ones would appeal.

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  5. This collection sounds like something I’d probably like. I enjoy short stories but don’t read them often because they take a while for me to read. I don’t want to plow through them like a novel so I end up taking weeks to read it and then it feels like a chore. Unless we’re talking about one of my favorite writers, like Jess Walter. I could read his short stories forever.

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    • You’re the one who got me interested in Button Poetry Press, and much like that publisher, Press 53 is what I would call practical. Stories feel like they’re written by someone you’ve met, and nothing is too over the top challenging or esoteric. I think you would like their work.

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