Lately I’ve been reading Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. The novel is based on a particular time in Fitzgerald’s life when she was raising two independent, slightly feral girls alone on a sinking houseboat on the Thames. Nenna, the heroine, is unsentimental and hard-scrabble and her reflections on her dying marriage are packed with the richest kind of insight—casually observed, deeply attuned and dryly funny. All of it combines into something like melancholy. Like this about Martha, Nenna’s eldest daughter:
“The crucial moment when children realize that their parents are younger than they are had long since been passed by Martha.”
I like Penelope Fitzgerald because she started writing when she was a widow. After a difficult, frequently impoverished life, she finally found the space and time to write and seemed to know exactly the parts of it that mattered.
I’ve also been turning to the stories in The Visiting Privilege by the hilarious and legendary Joy Williams, who said of the short story, “It is not a form that gives itself to consolation.”
I have yet to crack open Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, but that’s next.
Natalie Southworth’s award winning stories have appeared in literary journals in Canada and the UK. She lives and writes in Montreal.