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I swear it isn’t my default to read a book of short stories by a Canadian woman (or any woman) and immediately compare it to Alice Munro. I swear I mean it every time I do it. Sometimes my comparisons are based on thematic similarities or similarities in tone. In the case of Deborah Willis’s collection, Vanishing and Other Stories, it is that, but not just that. First, there’s the blurb from Ms. Munro herself on the cover. Second, she seems to make obvious, overt references to Alice Munro stories, as well as stories by other famed short story writers.

Take the last story in the collection, “The Separation.” It is a story about sisters whose hippie parents are going through a dramatic separation. The parents are self-aggrandizingĀ in their worry about their daughters, who are more interested in each other, in boys, in dying their hair and listening to punkĀ cassettes, than they are interested in anything their parents are doing. I liked the straight-forwardness of the story and, as always, love reading about sisters. Partway through the story, they start to take long bus trips north to spend weekends with their father, who is living in self-imposed exile. They have been warned about sitting apart on the bus; they may get fondled by strangers. And then, they sit apart on the bus. Hello, “Wild Swans” from The Beggar Maid! Now, the stories do not pan out in the same way, but it’s too obvious a parallel not to pick up on. Read the rest of this entry »

I remember going to the Happy Ending reading series years ago, back when it was still at the bar Happy Ending in Chinatown, back before it cost $15 to see writers read and take risks. Darin Strauss was reading, among others. I knew him as a fiction writer so was surprised when he launched into a personal essay. Surprised, then knocked out, floored. The essay was simple and beautiful. It was about the time he killed a girl.

The next time I saw Darin Strauss at a reading, it was Shelly Oria’s series SWEET: Actors Reading Writers. The passage he chose for his assigned actor to read was the same one I’d heard that night at Happy Ending. It was a bit less powerful seeing something so personal read by another person, yet somehow more powerful, too, because I knew how often Darin made the choice to put this information out into the world. This was a person who was dealing.

I also found out, at SWEET, that the passage was an excerpt from a memoir, Half a Life. Read the rest of this entry »