Somehow I'd missed Kate Walberg's two stories in the New Yorker. Indeed, before I went to New Haven I’d not heard of her except as part of the summer’s faculty. She was one of the four ‘Masters,’ but one I was not assigned to, so I wasn't invited to her more intimate morning session. Instead the day she taught I gathered with the hundred plus other participants in the afternoon to listen to her read “M&M World” and answer some questions from the audience. Here’s a link to the story:
“M&M World” was my kind of fiction, set in current time in the upper East side of Manhattan. I quickly liked the close-third-person protagonist, Ginny, a mother who is taking her kid to the eponymous location. Ginny is reluctantly fulfilling a promise made to her daughter in a weak moment, entering a world where she’s most uncomfortable.
I’ve written several short stories, published a few; one won an award. Over time, without realizing it, I’ve developed fairly traditional notions of what holds a short story together. Of Aristotle’s unities—commonly referred to as time, place, and action—the one I most like to preserve is time. Start at the beginning, develop a middle, then end, the way real life works. I laughingly say “I never met a flashback I liked.”
“M&M World” shocked me, a third of the way in, by jumping back in time, to before Ginny had children:
“Ginny leans into its solid skull, and the horse stares back at her with a huge watery eye. Where am I? it wonders, or something equivalent, and she thinks of the whale in Patagonia that asked the same thing. This was years ago, before the girls were born, when she and the girls’ father took a trip to Chile.” [The narrative then moves back in time, to the couple’s earlier trip to Patagonia].
Kate’s view of writing, as she described in her Q and A session, is refreshingly right-brained. What she taught me is that traditional ideas of a story can only take a writer so far, that ultimately a writer must follow the story where it wants to go. Her attitude reminded me of one of my favorite quotes on politics, by Mahatma Gandhi, “There go my people, and I must follow them, because I am their leader.” Kate might have said, “There go my characters, and I must follow them, because I am their writer.”
Causes Kevin Arnold Supports
Poetry Center San Jose, East Palo Alto Police Activities League (EPA PAL), Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Yale Writing Conference, Gold Rush Writers