What occurred were two absolutely amazing reviews of My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fiction, published both published on Friday. Before I go into that, I want to first say that even now, after quite a few years of having short stories and other work published in literary magazines, after having two collections published, I still think it's quite miraculous that the result of the bizarre workings of my mind, the combination of words I've put on a page, in any way connects or speaks to anyone else, anyone outside of my mind. And, as I mentioned in the previous post, thanks to the permission gifted to me by other writers' work, I have been taking more risks in my own, and to me my stories have been getting odder and odder. (My mother is in the habit now, when I send her a new story, of saying "Darling, I really enjoyed it, even though I had no idea what was going on.") Even more surprising then that anyone "gets" what I think I may have been trying to do (which I don't always know, either).
So, you can imagine that the fact that these two reviewers did is incredibly moving to me. Here is Martin Macaulay writing for Sabotage Reviews, who shortlisted my book for their Saboteur awards short story collection category:
Hershman writes with a lyrical precision that slices apart what it is to be human... My Mother was an Upright Piano is more than the sum of its parts. The book is structured into seven groups of six and two groups of seven, bonding this collection together as tightly as a chemical compound. It’s a solid, unbreakable and inspiring collection. Hershman creates worlds with depth and heart. She shows us lives soaked in loss; some with glimpses of hope, others dystopian.
And here is Kerry Shadid in her review in World Literature Today:
Her presentation of the tragedy and the oddity of our human lives is the typed equivalent of a performance artist at MOMA: strange, unfamiliar, captivating. ...The universe’s dark energy palpitates on Hershman’s pages; she gives emptiness form. Characters struggle to communicate, to make themselves known to others. Hopes for the world to be other than it is are met with silence. Longing blankets the text. Sentences stop before they reach their conclusion, words omitted by the author in sympathy with the reticence of her fictional creations. The unsaid contains both dagger and salve, and Hershman’s silences both break and heal the heart.
I had said to myself when the book came out that this time I wouldn't read reviews. Because whatever they say, they stick in your mind. Generally the less positive bits! But I couldn't help myself because I think, with these stories more than those in The White Road, I didn't always know myself what it was I was writing about, I had let go of that knowing, thanks to permission from others. And so I was curious to see what others think they are about.
I didn't think that these and other reviews would give me permission to keep doing this - and to take it further. But they do. Especially references to things I consider very odd, like leaving sentences unfinished. That's okay, says this review. And not only that, it actually means something.
Of course, there is the flipside to this, because there is no guarantee that every review will be favourable. I was delighted to be reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, thrilled beyond belief, but the reviewer seemed to be telling me what my stories are not, and I wasn't entirely sure what to make of that.
Right now, though, I am feeling very "permitted", these two reviewers have given me a great gift, an unexpected gift. I want to thank them, and everyone else who takes the time to read my book and share their thoughts. I don't take that for granted. I will never take that for granted. Thank you.