Can You Hear Us NOW?
What She Was Saying: Stories
by Marjorie Maddox
reviewed by Seana Graham
I’ve read several short story anthologies lately, and have found myself wondering at times about the best way to read them. Does it matter what kind of anthology it is? Most of the ones I’ve read have been collections of a single author’s work, but while some have been like different chapters of a single story, others have been quite diverse in their techniques and viewpoints. Although it’s easy to read the first type almost as though they were novels, the second type makes me want to slow down and consider each story separately, often with a pause of some kind before moving on. Marjorie Maddox’s collection What She Was Saying definitely falls into the second category. I was struggling a bit to describe the book as a whole, but luckily happened upon Maddox’s own description in an interview at The Literary Librarian (link below).
Although primarily a poet, I have always been fascinated by the blurring of boundaries between genres. This collection of short fiction, flash fiction, and brief creative nonfiction allowed me to explore in a new way power, silences, and spirituality through the voices of thirty-three women of diverse backgrounds, ages, and experiences as they face the struggles and successes of being female. What, the collection asks, are women saying about careers, art, health, religion, relationships, strength, survival, childbirth, infertility, parenting, aging, and care of elderly parents? What do these women also tell us of perseverance and hope? Ultimately, What She Was Saying is both about finding your voice and listening to the voices of those women that have gone before you.
Some of the stories are told in more traditional short story form, while others are experimental. One technique Maddox uses is to fragment a story into paragraphs, which may describe different viewpoints on an event, as happens in the story “Woman’s First Skydive Turns Out to Be Her Last.” Or the perspective might come from different points in time, not necessarily chronological, as in the title story “What She Was Saying,” where the effects of anesthesia in childbirth disassemble the character’s recollection of time itself.
One such fragmented story is “Rachel Isum Robinson: Snatches and Excerpts,” which draws not just on the official biography of Jackie Robinson but also Maddox’s family history of being the great grandniece of Branch Rickey, who was the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and helped break the color barrier by signing Robinson. And this may be as good a place as any to add a fragment of Maddox’s own poetic prose, this from the point of view of Robinson’s wife Rachel:
Yet despite all this, there are joys: long bus rides with the baby; a quiet simple meal for three; uncontained ecstasy on the ball field; and the slow change of this still surprising world. When my love runs his pigeon-toed run, our life is a round glowing ball of hope. The future shines in the crack of his bat, in the hard-won respect that now surrounds him-with or without his glove-in bright bursts of possibilities.
Some of my favorite stories are the longer more traditionally styled ones, like “For Real,” which conveys both the anxieties of watching a daughter play baseball with a defective heart and the sense of community that builds up around children’s sports. Another is the edgier “Weeds,” which explores innocent friendship between two young girls, just as it about to come crashing down on the shores of adulthood.
What She Was Saying seems particularly timely right now, as we discover all over again that to understand what women are saying, all we really have to do is stop and pay attention.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She also reviews for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. She has co-authored a trivia book about her native Southern California. Santa Cruz Noir, a recent title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.