Literature: Things You Should Know

I believe that there are things in life that everyone should know, should be aware of. Things that all should ponder and contemplate, and – above all – be respectful of. Writer A.M. Homes may have had a similar thought when she compiled and titled her 2002 anthology of short stories. Or maybe I am projecting my own values on this collection (it does contain a central story entitled Things You Should Know after all), but I am happy with that.

Things You Should Know is a goldmine of eloquent and striking commentaries on the desires, fears, dissatisfaction and peculiarities of everyday life. Homes builds colourful snippets and windows into entire worlds so fully in the imagination that you can almost taste them. And she is rare in her talent for writing equally convincingly from both the female and male perspective, not to mention her ability to construct a protagonist of any age. This is strong stuff.

Her writing beautifully communicates the pain of things not said and emotions repressed. Also – young voyages of discovery and the painful awkwardness of adolescence. Rules to live by can be found hidden in the luminous prose.

The central story, Things You Should Know, has a simple and lovely wisdom (you must read it) and in Do Not Disturb a frank voice states 'Expect less and you won't be disappointed.' There is something in that and it doesn't have to be cynicism.

Reading this set made me think back to the exhibition at Arnolfini contemporary art gallery I saw last Saturday – Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art Works 1969-1980. The same maintenance of creativity is implied and Ukeles' assertion that 'The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom' can be applied to the mental states of many of the Homes's frustrated characters. And along with the stunning poignance of Homes's prose is the gorgeous use of metaphor, such as in The Weather Outside Is Sunny And Bright (again, you must read it). 

An eye-opening and affirming collection, this is one I know will chance my life a little bit in the way that some books (and films and art and music etc) can.

NB: The book's cover photography (above) is by Thomas Grünfeld.


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