“My grade five teacher made me jump on a trampoline when spelling words out from a thesaurus. She was responsible for my love of language—or jumping. Either way, I always knew where I needed to land. It was to writing.”
- Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
This Will Be Difficult to Explain by Johanna Skibsrud
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Johanna Skibsrud
Format: Hardcover, 170 pages
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Pub Date: September 20, 2011
The title of Johanna Skibsrud’s collection of stories is how I felt in describing it for this review. She’s that good of a writer. You can’t just slap on a few pretty adjectives, assess the narrative, the characters, the plot, and be done with it. Which is probably why I’ve delayed writing anything down about the book even though I finished it days ago. You need to take a step back. A big step.
Because what you think her story may be about will make you do a 360-degree turn for being as confident and obnoxious a reader you may usually be with other books. This was obviously my error in reading her work. Though I was reminded and readily affirmed that yes, Ms. Skibsrud, did win The Giller Prize in 2010 for her first unknown novel, The Sentimentalists. The Giller Effect obviously did not hurt the author’s writing, nor did it leave her paralyzed by pressure in writing another good book.
Don’t be misled by the value of the short story. Most people under-value its worth simply because it’s short , rather than a 400-page novel. It would be wrong to do so. In many ways, a short story is more difficult to write, what with its word count restriction. The writer must be able to say something of significance in so little space. And Johanna Skibsrud does this.
Her stories are subtle and multi-layered and motivated by elusive characters who are flawed, thoughtful, and deeply affected by their circumstances. You may ask, “Well, aren’t all characters like that?”
Not really. Because these characters are unaware of it almost as much as the readers are. Stories will leave the reader questioning what really happened and what is the true meaning of what just occurred because once the story ends, what remains is merely a sense, a feeling.
This uncertainty allows for possibility, which also leaves characters open to some form of salvation or hope. Or not. Either way, the narrative becomes an intimate window in the character’s life. A moment, really, in a string of moments that are written in a clear and real way that the reader has no choice, but to empathize, appreciate, and care for the characters’ world.
Johanna Skribsrud is able to write her characters’ dialogue and thought process in such a way that makes them not only believable, but honest and true. But written with such inexplicable giftedness that the author’s writing prowess is not only creative, fresh, and new, but powerful enough that any writer (or reader) can only wish he or she had thought of it first. Or in my case, “How did she do that?”
This book of nine stories is written by a new author, but a mature one. She is subtle, but assured, and her craft is perfect.
What’s your favourite short story?
Who’s your favourite short story writer?