Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 10, 2008

The Sunday Salon – listening to short stories as well as reading (and writing) them

As I began writing this (on Saturday) I looked out of the window  thinking about Becca’s comment left under my previous post, to the effect that she hopes I can catch my breath this weekend.  And I am genuinely touched by the interest shown in my bout of misery last week.   It was raining and there was a man walking along the pavement at the other side of the road, which I can just glimpse across he garden hedge from my upstairs window, he was wearing a dark grey jumper and grey knee length shorts with walking boots.  On his back huddled a baby in a carrier; the baby was wearin a stripy grey-and-white hooded jacket, unaware of rain or shine, asleep against its father’s shoulder.  The man turned his head back slightly and I could see his mouth move and he was saying something to the child but the baby did not move its head, just rested its head there on the man’s shoulder, peacefully.   It was a very comforting sight, this little island of life that passed by there, unaware that I was watching them and then they were gone.  It is as if I have been allowed to intrude into something private, not mine, but something that I can think about and imagine and then I think they were on their way to an aunt, who was going to  look after the baby because the parents are going out for the evening to celebrate.  What?   I don’t know yet, I’m going to make it up.  And then I thought, yes, I’ve just caught my breath, looking at that little picture, it was so quiet everywhere, an odd car and the raindrops on the window and I was here and this is my little hour of forgetfulness, my space, when all I do is type out the words that come up and I don’t have to think about anything else.  Perhaps I wish it could last longer, but then what use is that?  There will be other stories, or maybe I’m going to change this story into the man talking to the baby on his back, about his hopes and dreams, his expectations and worries, his plans for his child…. 

Earlier on I listened to a New Yorker podcast, to Jeffrey Eugenides reading and discussing a short story by Harold Brodkey Spring fugueJeffrey Eugenides says that Brodkey makes the sounds that no one else makes; that his reason for liking Brodkey is that he provides the mixture of academic writing and very common speech and.   He points out that this is a story about spring allergies, love as an allergy that returns annually.  And then you feel like a head cold coming on. 

I loved listening to this story, which is very close to being a prose poem.  What makes it a story, according to Eugenides, is the relationship between the husband and wife, and so there is a dramatic arc. The first voice character is a head teacher ‘my wife earns more money than I do’.  I love it when he says that although his wife is a spring goddess, at work ‘she is a Nietschean’ because of her ‘will to power’.  The conversation between the character and his wife is just beautifully constructed.

The story is also full of allusions, genuinely showing and providing information without telling us anything.  One can learn a lot from this, how to make a story come alive.   In fact, it’s quite lovely to listen to short stories once in a while, rather than reading them, and I now have a large collection downloaded, ready to go on my I-Pod and this means that I  actually quite look forward to some of the car travelling I again have to do: leaving Sunday afternoon to be ready for a meeting in Wales on Monday morning at nine.  The five hour drive will provide the opportunity to listen once more to this story by Brodkey (it needs at least two or three sessions, either reading or writing, to fully appreciate it, and then some more, like the piece of Vivaldi he refers to in the first sentence of the story).

I have not actually read any Brodkey, have you?  What about his novels? 

Well, some of my Sunday Salon will be my car, listening to the sounds of a story, either this one again or another one.   I will also listen to some more book reviews.


In addition, I might pack Jeffrey Eugenides’ collection of great love stories My mistress’s Sparrow is Dead’, which includes two further short stories by Brodkey, as well as stories by authors ranging from Chekhov to Munro.  JE says that he’s included two by Brodkey because there is such a remarkable change in style from the earlier short stories to the later ones.  So I’m going to make something positive out of this coming week, even if this month is turning out to be quite obsessively busy work-wise!


I feel optimistic now, as you may guess, and that is because of all the encouragement I’ve had from virtual friends and fellow bloggers.  In addition I have received my creative writing course results:  oh my, I’ve received a distinction!!  I’m really happy with that, however silly it may seem, it’s giving me a boost, encourages me to get on with it, a nod to write…  whenever I can and wherever I can.   For the examinable part of this course I submitted the first (rewritten) chapter of my novel, and at least I don’t have to throw that in the bin.  I am a writer, even if only part time. 





  1. I’m so glad you’re feeling better and thanks for the piece about Brodsky – not a name I know, but if Eugenides recommends him that’s enough for me.

  2. Yes, exactly the same response here (as Ann’s). Sounds a really interesting writer, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I loved your description of the baby on the man’s back. I felt I was watching it with you.

  3. Wonderful info about Brodsky. I must listen to that podcast now. I’m woefully behind on them lately. And I really want to read My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. Looking forward to your thoughts on that one.

  4. Great post, and I’m glad you’re feeling more encouraged today!

  5. I love those short story podcasts, and forget about them unless someone (like you!) reminds me. Listening to that story will be the perfect thing to do this afternoon 🙂

    This post really inspired me to look out my window and see what kind of stories might be out there!

    I’m glad you managed to have a bit of a respite…safe travels next week.

  6. Glad to hear you’re feeling happier.

    I haven’t read any Brodkey (yet!) but am a fan of The New Yorker’s short story podcast. I’ve been meaning to read My mistress’s sparrow is dead so will be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Congratulations on your distinction as well.

  7. Congratulations on your distinction! How wonderful! And glad you are feeling better overall.

  8. Huge congratulations on your distinction! That is such an achievement.

  9. I agree. Virtual friends get us going. More than real friends. I am happy for you.

  10. Ann: so glad I’ve stumbled across something useful: I listened again on my way to Wales and Eugenides has a way of making this writer sound very intriguing – have started on Brodkey’s ‘First Love and Other Stories’ and although in some way old-fashioned, it’s nevertheless a story that keeps you reading (until I fell asleep from exhaustion after the 5 hour drive and the swim….)
    Clare: mmmm yes, see previous response and that baby is still pre-occupying my mind. Isn’t it lovely how something like that begins to distill itself in your mind and begins to lead a life of its own….
    Andi: podcasts lead a life of their own somehow: I only get round to listening to them in the car… is that good or bad??? But at least they provide excellent diversions while driving along tediously…
    Kim: thank you – always good to hear from you !
    Becca: happy listening – I really hope you enjoyed it as much as I did: I listened again on my way to Wales this time (yes, I’m ensconsed again (!) in a hotel room but I found a little corner this time where my 3G works… bliss.
    a devoted reader: thank you! I have now started on my first story in the Mistress’s sparrow and it is all very promising. Enough to give me a good feeling even if I have to sleep in a hotel room!
    Litlove: thank you so much… It’s just wonderful the way I feel supported by fellow bloggers!
    Caroline: lovely to hear from you! And I feel really happy about your comment! Yes, it does feel wonderful 🙂
    gautami tripathy: and thank you so much, I feel so happy and grateful for my virtual friends! You are right – they keep you going.

    xx to all of you!

  11. In addition: I’m having real problems accessing your websites from this remote corner of the UK and when I do manage to read some, posting a comment is made impossible as the ‘verification codes’ pose unsurmountable problems for the internet access I have here…. So you will have to wait until the end of the week, when I hope to be back in virtual reality!

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