Short Story Month Celebration: Lena Bertone

Lena Bertone author photoTo celebrate Short Story Month, we’re asking Origami Zoo Press authors and other writers we admire to sweet-talk a story (or stories) they love by contemporary and/or emerging writers. Today, Lena Bertone talks about N. Michelle AuBuchon. Check out previous posts by Leesa Cross-SmithAnne ValenteBJ Hollars and Justin Lawrence Daugherty.

I read the story “The Haircut” by N. Michelle AuBuchon in Caketrain 12 last year. And then I read it again and again.

Here’s what I love about that story: it’s a story that’s straightforwardly told and easy to understand until it isn’t, and even then it still is. It’s a story with a single narrator until it has three narrators and even then it still has just one. It’s a story about dead and living people who become each other, though not really, but yes, they really do, and one of them, or maybe two, get a haircut, but in the end, it really is only one. I love that it’s a simply told story that makes the complications of love and grief reside so plainly on the surface of its storytelling. Here’s an example in which the narrator is both the husband and the dead daughter:

I had the feeling of remembering being scared of her, that woman, my wife, but then I just got to wanting to cut Mother’s hair, and I said, ‘Hold still, Mother, these scissors are sharp.’

In an essay called, “A Few Men Who Begged Me Not to Write about Them,” AuBuchon does a similar thing with her storytelling: she keeps the reader posted on the process and progress of the essay she’s writing. The essay is about the problem of being silenced by men, and writing the essay is one way that she unsilences herself:

I become obsessed with recording everything men don’t want me to. Their motivation to quiet me seems to parallel, if not exceed, their motivation to be with, in, or around me.

She writes about men who don’t want to be written about, and she reveals some things about them but not others. She writes as though it is ambivalence that makes her waver between concealing and revealing, but in truth, by including me, the reader, in these seemingly offhand decisions, she shows that she has the power to choose how she tells the story:

Afterwards, I take the train into the city to visit this editor I’ve been seeing, but, again, full disclosure: I’m omitting this section, because it was a short, not very interesting section, and he was the most insistent on being taken out of the essay. So anyway, he and I break up after a fight about the essay and something else I can’t remember.

In revealing what she’s been forbidden to reveal and chatting with her reader so easily about it, AuBuchon is showing the ways in which matters of silencing and revealing are so ubiquitous and morally tenuous. Much as she does in “The Haircut,” she makes the reader complicit in her narrative. When I’m reading her work, I feel like I’m looking at it from the inside out, and AuBuchon accompanies me through the whole strange and illuminating experience.

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Lena Bertone is the author of Behind This Mirror (Origami Zoo Press) and Letters to the Devil (The Lit Pub). She has stories forthcoming in Sundog Lit and Condensed to Flash: World Classics. Check out our Short Story Month sale!

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