As a writer myself, I often tout the benefits of reading as a way of improving one’s writing. Not only do I read a lot, but I also listen to a lot of podcasts that have short stories read aloud to me. One of my favorites is the the New Yorker Fiction podcast. The reason it’s my favorite is that the fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, asks a different writer to pick and present his or her favorite story from the magazine, so not only do we get the story read, but we also get discussion about it both before and after the reading. Ms. Treisman is excellent at getting discussion going and asking pointed questions about why the story spoke to the writer.
Yesterday’s treat was writer Lauren Groff reading Alice Munro’s story, “Axis” which was published in the magazine somewhat recently – January 2011. Ms. Groff pointed out that Munro has a particular talent with the structure of the story and an amazing ability to use that structure to play with the idea of TIME – to move in and out of it in various ways – so that the reader is always aware of the time-frame, but in such a way that it’s not an intrusive or obvious reference. “Axis” is definitely such a story. In it, the reader moves seamlessly from two girls sharing secrets in college in the ’70’s, to what happened to those girls in modern times. The story arcs beautifully and sets the reader down so that he’s not precisely sure of what happened, but knows enough to make educated guesses. It was masterful and the surrounding discussion brought out some interesting ideas that I might not have discovered otherwise. The whole thing made my walk seem very short indeed.
Given the discussions last week of the elderly couple in the restaurant and the cemetery scene, perhaps I should take in some of those lessons given by Alice Munro and presented so ably by Lauren Groff.