Likely Stories : Why I Don’t Write, by Susan Minot

Dec 24, 2020

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

I once attended an American Library Association Convention, and I found myself in line for an inscribed copy of Lust by Susan Minot.  Unlike many authors that day, she had a comfortable demeanor as though we were longtime friends.  She signed my book, “Thanks for being the first in line that day.”  I recently got a copy of her latest book, a collection of short stories, Why I Don’t Write.  Her prose is fluid, captivating, and downright funny. 


I will begin with “Occupied” – “Hair blew across her face.  She felt for her hair elastic, but it had fallen out.  That was annoying.  She always kept her hair tied back.  She stuffed the loose strands into her jacket collar and crossed the street to walk down the perimeter.  The images she’d seen in the paper and on the screen were decidedly more monumental than what appeared.  But wasn’t it always like that?  In front of you, things turned smaller, and seemingly less substantial than in a photograph, despite the fact that the real thing was actually more substantial, being three-dimensional and more complex.  In front of you it was actually real.  And what was more compelling than real?  Images of real, apparently.  To a visual artist like Ivy, this was hardly a new revelation” (31).  I really enjoy the introspective nature of Susan’s musings.

Continuing with “Occupied” – “The book she had handed over was a popular novel everyone had loved.  Everyone, it seemed, but she.  No, no, it gets better, people said.  You should keep with it.  She had abandoned it early on.  Why did people want you to read a book you didn’t like?  They were the same people who wanted you to try the dessert you didn’t want.  Really, come on, try it they said, holding out the fork. Was it the desire to share?  Was it power?  Did they want the consolation of agreement, so they might feel, like these protesters, part of a larger connection? They were the same people who told you what you didn’t want in a man.  Or were they in fact the saintly ones, trying to protect you from what you seemed unable to register as dangerous?  You don’t want that” (41).  I can sympathize with her, when people wrinkle their nose at the thought of a 900-page masterpiece.

Back to “Occupied” – “Then on the far side of the park through curling spaces she saw a familiar line of neck and shoulder in a brown fatigue jacket.  Her heart started up crazily, and instinct made her turn away.  Jesus, she was even hallucinating him.  Then like a bad spy, she pretended to search her pockets for something while glancing over her shoulder.  He was on the other side of a row of trees, his back to her, talking to a woman with a hatchet chin and a ribbed vest, interviewing her.  A man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and holding a camera on his shoulder filmed them.  Ivy moved and nearly stepped on a person sleeping curled under a blanket of blurry blue and white snowflakes.  The man had on a black wool hat and Ivy had never seen the shape of his head in a hat.  It did not look familiar” (42-43).

I rarely confine myself to only one example of a piece of short fiction, but this collection of stories by Susan Minot is thoughtful and interesting.  Why I Don’t Write is a wonderful book worthy of an afternoon's read.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!