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Natalie Serber

Diagonally Across the Bed

When mothers say that they really can’t bear to be away from their children, what they’re really doing is protesting a little too much, and what they would really love to have is a night in a hotel room lying diagonally across the bed and eating all sorts of food. 

~Tilda Swinton, NY Times Magazine, December 4, 2011

There are so many reasons I love that quote.  First off, who doesn’t like to lie diagonally across the bed?  It’s such a glorious me moment—leaving room for no one else, just a revelry of the self.  What I also like about the quote is the secret truth it contains and that Ms. Swinton is willing to let us in on one of the things she craves.  Even though, in an antiquated ideal of motherhood that clings to our collective skin, we’re supposed to relish every delightful moment with our children, we have secret desires for freedom, for space, for a little gluttony-of-me. Ms. Swinton has given voice to a craving that resides in all of us.  She has created community by outing our thoughts and making them just fine thank-you-very-much.  We—devoted parents all—feel less alone. 

Feeling less alone…that was a reason I read so much as a young girl, an only child of a single mother, I spent many hours on my own.  I read to connect with the pluckiness of the Boxcar Children and Harriet the Spy, with the mystery and calm of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, with Holden Caulfield’s cocky confusion, and with the brazen confidence of the young women in Ellen Gilchrist’s short stories.  Feeling less alone is a reason that I write as well.  I invent characters, I get wrapped up in their lives, in their relationships and experiences and I hope hope hope that the expression of their secret yearnings, their bad behaviors, and generous acts will make a reader feel less alone.  If what Tolstoy said is true, that the aim and intention of art is to convey emotion from one man’s heart to another’s, then feeling less alone has to be a result of reading good literature. 

Reading a great book, lying diagonally across a bed and munching on your favorite snack, that is one idea of a great evening. 

What book made you feel less alone? 

Take good care,



My Reading Year

Every year I set out to read 52 books.  Though I didn't make it to my number goal this year, I did read some terrific novels, stories and memoirs.  Stand outs, in no particular order were Richard Yates, Charles Baxter, Jo Ann Beard, David Bezmogis, Jean Thompson, Jeffrey Eugenides, Elissa Schappell, Amy Bloom, Lidia Yuknavitch, Robin Black, Antonya Nelson, Dean Young and Maira Kalman.

 By NightfallMy HollywoodPEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2010Best New American Voices 2010Natasha: And Other StoriesRon Carlson Writes a StoryGryphon: New and Selected StoriesTownie: A MemoirThe Chronology of WaterMy AbandonmentThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two FatesBrooklyn

The Half-Known World: On Writing FictionAn Object of BeautyBossypantsThe Magician's AssistantSuper Sad True Love StoryThe Year We Left HomeThe London TrainFall HigherEither Way I'm CelebratingThe HelpThis Beautiful LifeA Moveable Feast

What Narcissism Means to MeMrs. DallowayThe Boys of My YouthIn Zanesville: A NovelParis StoriesThe Free World: A NovelState of WonderThe Collected StoriesThe Stories of John CheeverThe LeftoversJust KidsIf I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

The Paris WifeBlueprints for Building Better Girls: StoriesBlood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant ChefThe Sun Also RisesThe Story and Its Writer Compact: An Introduction to Short FictionThe Complete StoriesA Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their CraftThe Principles of UncertaintyThe Marriage PlotThe World We FoundExtremely Loud and Incredibly CloseBound

Here are a few books I am already looking forward to in 2012:

Stay Awake: Stories
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailLet the Great World SpinHigher Gossip: Essays and Criticism

Wishing you a year of great books.






Other Writing

This week I have a review in the Sunday Oregonian (January 15th) for Thrity Umrigar's novel, The World We Found. 

 Some novels seduce you like a warm bath. With the first pages you find yourself fully immersed in the story, care deeply about the characters and are lulled by the clarity of the writing. Other novels are a bit more like grumpy uncles. They take some warming up to, some puzzling out before you find yourself looking forward to spending a rewarding and satisfying evening with them. 

Such is the case with Thrity Umrigar's new book, "The World We Found." The novel tells the story of an enduring friendship between four women, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita and Nishta, deeply devoted to one another during their tumultuous college years in 1970s Bombay, a time of political and social unrest. The now middle-aged foursome has drifted apart over the years because of life choices that set them on different paths -- geographic, religious and economic. The novel brings the four women together again with the devastating news of Armaiti's failing health, an inoperable brain tumor. Armaiti's desire to reunite with her friends, with the passion and vigor that commanded their young lives, sets loose, in each of the women, regrets, feelings of guilt and loss, memories and desires. 

Umrigar's novel is both political and deeply personal. She is masterly at exploring the large societal tension of modern-day India through the lens of each woman's life. One must come to terms with her sexuality, another must admit to herself her collusion in the cage her fundamentalist husband has placed her in, another must reconcile her comfortable bourgeoisie lifestyle with the ideals of her youth, and, of course, Armaiti must ultimately accept her own death. 

The passages that tell of Armaiti's demise are Umrigar at her best. As Armaiti loses control of her body to the brain tumor, she both rails against and accepts what is happening to her. She is equal parts angry and mystified. Mostly she is shown in nature, in her garden, at the ocean. She is wed to the tactile experiences of her diminishing life, the feel of her daughter's hands, the weightlessness of a pair of dead cardinals she finds and then buries in her yard. At times the writing dips toward sentimentality, as with the dead birds in the hands of the dying woman, but we can forgive Umrigar those moments when she also writes gimlet-eyed passages like this scene when Armaiti begins to lose her vision: 

"Armaiti looked away to face the ocean again, and as she did, she felt something come loose inside her head. That's how she remembered the feeling later, as if a mechanical part, a knob, say, had come loose inside her head and had caused instant dizziness and blurriness of vision. The world around her, so sharp just a second ago, disappeared and became a fuzzy image cast by an old, creaking projector. Her own feet as she sat on the sand were out of focus. The ocean lost its distinctive shape and form, gave up the individuality of each wave to became a diffused, amorphous, gray-blue mass." 

There is nothing sentimental in this description, just a bald stripping away, and for that we should be grateful. We are allowed to feel our own sadness at the devastating loss, rather than having the emotion prescribed to us through sentimentality or overly dramatic action. 

Where the writing sometimes feels less true is in the dialogue. Umrigar often uses chunks of dialogue to pass along information to her reader, and it seems unnatural to the speaker. In writing workshops this awkward, sometimes-stilted dialogue is known as the info-dump. Ultimately things even out, we do get to know and care about the characters, and dialogue that seemed like pop beads awkwardly strung together becomes smooth as a string of pearls. 

Umrigar, an Indian American who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, is a generous writer. Her compassionate and judgment-free descriptions of the sometimes-odious behavior of her characters or the occasional moment of grace make her people feel complicated and real. As the four women move toward reunion, their broken spirits, prickly personalities, unfortunate choices and generous hearts are explored. Umrigar resists tying things up for us. There are questions left unanswered and difficulties ahead for these characters, which feels right and honest. At the end, one character reflects, "I am here, she thinks. We are here. We are all here." It is a fitting close for a novel about enduring friendship and the power of love to change lives. 

See the review and other great content from the Oregonian here: 



Occasional Series: What the dogs think....

Phil: "An emotional richness permeates these stories 
about mothers and daughters. A brisk read, I almost
didn't hear the kibble falling into my bowl I was
so engaged."


Leo: "Clear and often lyric writing blew my
mind. I hated the story about the cat."


Zooey: "A rich and satisfying read that explores
in a significant way contemporary issues of family.
My favorite part was the baby lamb chops."

Chester: "The character of Ruby is so complex,
funny and heartbreaking. I loved that part when
they were barbecuing steaks."


Barkley: "Engaging and accessible, thoughtful
without being daunting. I love that scene at the
Hamburger Hamlet."



My mom's dog, Lotus: "I'm kvelling over here! "





Emerging Mature Adult 101: What I’m learning

Okay, I turned 50. 

Who knew that skipping first grade could cause such turmoil?  Not when I was in grammar school mind you, but now, at the dawn of my "Emerging Mature Adult" status. Skipping first grade meant that for most of my life I have been the youngest person in the room.   Classmates and friends were always older.  As a high school student striving to be cool, in possession of my fake i.d., I always hung out with upper classmen.  I married my first husband (a whopping thirteen years older than me) while I was still in college and thus I never lived in a dorm, around people my own age.  Always being the youngest meant I had more on the looking-forward side of the scale, rather than the looking-back side.  At 50 that is no longer the case and I fear that is why this birthday was a touchy one for me. 

One of the first things I noticed, instead of happy birthday wishes, roughly 7 out of 10 people said, “Congratulations!” as if I’d completed an arduous task, or received a promotion, accomplished something grand besides simply waking up on my birthday.  And I get it, 50 is substantial.  If someone gave me a 50 dollar bill, I’d be surprised and grateful.  It’s not that I feel any older, it’s just that now I’m half a hundred.  There are expectations of accomplishment when one reaches this landmark age. Thankfully I’ve met most of mine, two great kids in college, a loving marriage of 22 years, a satisfying career.  I’m lucky to be publishing my first book at 50.  While I’m thrilled by the events that led up to my publication, and I feel my work is so much stronger having experienced more than half a life, there is a tinge of…yeah, that’s great and all, but what took you so long? Come on, your 50.  You’re no prodigy!

Another thing, since my birthday, three people have asked about my bucket list.  At 50 must I tap my watch ruefully and say, now’s the time to learn to speak Urdu, to climb Mt. Everest?  I guess the take away message is…times a-wasting. Okay, so I don’t have a bucket list.  Maybe that’s because, overall I’m pretty satisfied that I can fake French well enough to get by and I’ve been to the Pyrenees.  But, I did start a gratitude journal.  Just so I don’t waste my time forgetting to be thankful. I read about a gratitude journal in a New York Times article (A Serving of Gratitude Brings Healthy Dividends) last November and the article suggested if you take the time to notice the small things that make you happy, you’ll sleep better and be more satisfied.  (I did a little digging and also found there is a Gratitude Journal for the ipad App. An App?  I use a tiny brown notebook.  But, whatever makes you grateful.)  So, at night, before I turn off my light, I take time to account for 3 things I am grateful for in my day.  Younger me might have scoffed at this act as earnest and treacly, but older me is glad to take note.  And, the surprising thing I’ve learned is how tiny the things are that make me happy.  For example, here is my list from February third: green heads of daffodils pushing up through the dirt, the leak wasn’t too bad, dozed with my head on Joel’s shoulder.  Does being 50 have anything to do with this list?  I don’t know, maybe I don’t need a rock-my-world event, like climbing Mt. Everest, to feel gratitude because I’m a little calmer at 50 than I was at 30.  I have enough self-knowledge that comes with experience to realize that climbing a mountain, sleeping in a windy crevasse in a pup tent may not be my be all end all, and that is okay.  Watching Downton Abbey with a good glass of Pinot Noir, relaxing with my husband and my dog beside me, that inspires heaps of gratitude.  But to appease those 3 people who asked after my bucket list, I’ll start one, the first thing on it will be to have a gratitude journal (one thing accomplished already!), the second, I would like to visit to Cambodia.




Writer, INC

I have a new essay up about writing, finding my terrific agent and publisher.  It's over at the Hunger Mountain website. 

Take It Personally

Sometimes an acceptance letter can make you shudder, in a bad way. When my story “Shout Her Lovely Name” was awarded runner-up in Hunger Mountain’s annual fiction contest, I was gratified and terrified. It wasn’t the first time this story came in second. Three contests gave “Shout Her Lovely Name” a second and two wanted to publish the piece in traditional journals, but I was afraid to let it go. The risk felt huge because the story is intense and closer to the bone than anything I’ve written. 

read more @ Hunger Mountain


Book Giveaway!

Spring, just when the crocus and tulips pop up their delicate purple and yellow heads, coaxed by a flirtatious bit of sunshine, hail batters them back. Freezing rain, blue sky, rainbows, a powdery dust of snow overnight, mud, mud, mud and the return of songbirds.  So quixotic and confusing and full of promise for the warm days ahead.  Spring forward and lose an hour, my least favorite day of the year. Perhaps you feel the same way.  To soften the blow, here is a book giveaway my publisher is offering over at the goodreads website.  Take advantage!  


Emerging Mature Adult 101: What I’m f#@king Learning

I know, I know, I’ve spoken of this before.  Bringing it up again might seem like much ado about nothing, but things have come up that made me feel the need to discuss gray hair.  My friend and editor, Molly Rosen, posted an essay of mine on her blog.  That essay, My Hair Experiment, talked about my and my family’s reactions when I attempted to quit coloring my hair.  Rereading it and the comments posted brought me back to thinking about hair color.  One woman wrote me a personal note, she said living and working in LA it is essential that she exude youth.  Plus she loves her colorist.  Another mentioned wig-wearing until the gray was fully in.  Another embraced her silver.  She was an anomaly, and maybe language is key.  If you call it silver instead of gray, what’s not to love?  The majority of responders said they couldn’t give up coloring.  And I understand, it’s a glorious boost to leave the salon with soft and shining auburn, brunette, golden, or red tresses.

Next, I read an article in the NYTs; Post Chemo, New Hair, New Outlook.  It told of a salon that caters to cancer patients, women who are stepping back into vibrant lives with short hair that now says chic, rather than cancer.  Post-chemo hair often comes in gray.  Timid about the chemicals, about sitting in a regular salon surrounded by tons of hair, these women have their own comfortable sweet spot on earth and once given their oncologists' go ahead, they color. “For many women who have lost hair during cancer treatments, dyeing is empowering — They’re so excited to sit back in the chair and get their life back. It’s really nice. You’ve got to see the smiles.”  The photo that accompanies the story says it all.  A woman with micro-short blond hair is smiling—tentative, expressing relief, fear and a whiff of happiness.

I had to renew my license and for the first time I listed gray as my hair color.  Ouch.  It is not so much that I hate the gray, I actually like the streaks and my hair looks like Jon Stewart’s, only longer.  But I do miss brown.  Never being able to say brown again on my license is kind of like loosing baby teeth only bigger.  Once those teeth fall out, you’re moving to a new stage of life—same with the gray hair.  At least with the baby teeth you get the tooth fairy to soften the blow.  Hmm… the gray hair fairy?  What would she leave under the pillow?  Spanx?  Where’s the fun in that?  Lingerie?  A great book?  An Adele cd?

Every time I pass by my reflection I am shocked that the external me doesn’t match up with the internal me.  I am so much younger inside my head than that woman in the mirror!  In trying to bridge the gap, I’m (thankfully) not rocking the tribal nails or neon boots, I don’t blast The Roots and drive around with my windows down, nor have I taken up skateboarding, but I am free with the f-bomb.  It seems gray-haired me feels the need to prove I can still throw it down.   At a recent dinner party, I even used the C-word in describing a certain female political pundit.  Am I just becoming crotchety and old?  Am I releasing final gasps of youthful bravado just as my ovaries are releasing their last dozen eggs?  My husband actually cringed at my dinner party outburst.  Which made me say it again!  Don’t try and rein me in old man!  (He is five years my senior.)  I guess it makes sense that a writer would rebel through language.

So hair…what is it about hair that conjures such vanity in me?  Rapunzel used hers as a rope to freedom.  Lady Godiva covered her naked and vulnerable body with her hair as she protested against unfair taxation.  Boticelli’s Venus has incredibly sexy and abundant hair that enhances her beauty and vaguely covers her shy offering.  Sampson lost his power when his hair was shorn.  In films the crazy person always cuts off their hair in a fit, leaving clumps and exposed bits of vulnerable scalp. My dentist’s daughter is raising money for charity with save-it or shave-it buckets.  The bucket with the most money at the end wins.  She is completely unattached, but her mother has been stuffing bills in the save-it bucket.  Even one of my favorite poets, Marie Howe, talks about coloring her hair in her poem, What We Would Give Up, from her collection THE KINGDOM OF ORDINARY TIME.  Howe says,

“Would I give up the telephone?  Would I give up hot water? Would I give up makeup? Would I give up dyeing my hair? That was a hard one.  If I stopped dyeing my hair everyone would know that my golden hair is actually gray, and my long American youth would be over—and then what?”

That’s the essential question, isn’t it?  Going gray, catching your reflection in a shop window, in the mirror behind the bar, in the bathroom of your youngest child’s dorm room, you have to ask, now what?


100 Days Project

Less than 100 days to SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME launch!!  On June 26 I'll be doing something scary and thrilling and new. I'll be reading at Powell's Books. Pinch me...Feeling humbled and daunted, and in honor of the event, I'm taking on a tiny new thing, sometimes scary, sometimes thrilling and sometimes silly (come on, it's 100 things!) everyday. Here is the first round!


100: Blue Fingernails to make my daughter proud
99: First Ever: Homemade Coconut Macaroons
98: Kale Smoothie, Yum?


Send me ideas for new things to try.  Stay in touch for more countdown activities. 100 is a big number.







100 Days Project

Less than 100 days to SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME launch!!  On June 26 I'll be doing something scary and thrilling and new. I'll be reading at Powell's Books. Pinch me...Feeling humbled and daunted, and in honor of the event, I'm taking on a tiny new thing, sometimes scary, sometimes thrilling and sometimes silly (come on, it's 100 things!) everyday.  Second posting!


97: b&w movie night  
96: hip hop concert/ Robert Glasper 
95: test-driving bikes indoors  
94: 16 mile ride along the Spring Water Corridor  
95: puzzling...5000 piece challenge  
94: thrill of the body scan at PDX

Remember my plea!  100 days is a long time, I'd love to hear some ideas for new things I can try as I count down... 


Write In My Book, Please!

Douglas Yocum, a writer and antiquarian bookseller, wrote a short essay for The Oregonian last week that began "Don't ruin books by writing in them." Below is my response:

When I was a young and passionate English major, a professor assigned James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  The book mesmerized, engaged, enraged, inspired jealousy and awe in me.  The book was rich as truffles and I read it in great chunks that often left me with a stomachache.  When I look through the pages now, at the passages I underlined, I am reintroduced to younger me.  I get to see what inspired me, what charmed me, and in the case of this book, what frustrated me, as on page 171 in a fit, I dumped a glass of wine into my book.  I remember doing it.  I remember reading a passage about the perishable beauty of a woman standing in the sea, a rope of kelp twisted around her calf, and feeling despair that I would never, ever write so well.   That I may as well give up.  But I didn’t.

I wrote in my books all through college, in the years between undergrad and graduate school I scribbled in the margins and dog-eared the pages.  When I was working on my MFA, I absolutely filled the collections and novels assigned to me with marginalia, questions and underlined great big passages of beautiful writing by Alice Munro, William Trevor, Richard Yates, Charles Baxter, Lorrie Moore and many others.  

Writing in your books is a way to deepen the exchange between the work and your inner life.  If, as Tolstoy says, the aim of art is to convey emotion from one man’s heart to another, then engaging with the book on many levels is a gift.  Flirt with your books, write “I love this” in the margins, argue, tell the book you disagree, decry the faults and bad behavior of the characters with exclamation points and unhappy faces drawn on the page.  Exalt the work with double scored underlines and highlighter.

I understand the impulse to preserve a book as a thing of beauty, but asking me to keep the pages pristine is like turning a book into a Madame Alexander doll, something cold and distant, to store behind glass.  If a grandma has inscribed For my smart and funny grandson, Owen on the flyleaf of a Shel Silverstein collection, than I know the book was given with love and now it is my turn to love it. 

If I am lucky to have you as a reader of my book, please, mark it up, spill wine on it, fold down the pages.  Maybe you will even find a passage that speaks your truth and you will highlight my words in hot pink.  Go wild!  



Furnishing a Marriage

My fiancé leaned over the railing of our tiny patio, looking down at the movers.  “Wait until you see the marble table!”  Wrapping me in a quick hug he ran out the front door and down the stairs.  On the street two hefty men unloaded a truck full of furniture my fiancé had purchased in the brief period we were broken up.  Now that we were back together, he was certain I would love everything, just as I was meant to love the condo he’d purchased and I was now seeing for the first time.  I leaned over the railing. Hulking shapes covered in copious plastic wrap looked like a row of giant cocoons waiting to be brought up.  Joel smiled and waved up at me, happy and hopeful. 

The furniture delivery day came about eighteen months after I had uprooted my life in Santa Cruz and moved to Santa Monica to be with Joel.  We’d been introduced at a dinner party one weekend when he was in town.  Seated together we’d both felt the pleasing tingle of possibility.  On one of our early dates, a perfect day, we drove all the way down the coast, from my home to his.  We stopped in Malibu at a restaurant where they took the time to mold the pale butter into perfect tiny seashells.  The knives were warm from the sun shining on the patio.  The rolls, soft and delicious.  We lingered over dinner and drinks until the ocean turned deeply violet and the waiter came around to light candles on all the tables.  Joel squeezed into my side of our booth.  We always had body parts touching in the beginning.  Arriving late to his apartment, we swam in the moonlight, doing the sidestroke, facing one another, practically trembling.  It was ridiculously romantic; as if little rope suspension bridges linked our eyes across the shimmering pool and, amazingly we were both brave enough to step forward.  By the time he took me to catch my flight home the next day, we were in love.

For the next nine months, while I finished grad school, we lived apart.  We saw each other most weekends and when we weren’t together we had long, crabby and complicated telephone conversations late into the night in which we misunderstood one another and often hung up frustrated.  Upon graduation in May, despite my fears, I gave up my apartment.  I was afraid to move in with Joel and afraid not to.  I’d begun to detect some resistance to our relationship.


100 Days Project

Less than 100 days to SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME launch.  June 26 I'll be doing something scary and thrilling and new. I'll be reading at Powell's Books. Pinch me...Feeling humbled and daunted, and in honor of the event, I'm taking on a tiny new thing, sometimes scary, sometimes thrilling and sometimes silly (come on, it's 100 things!) everyday.  Some highlights:



Other Writing

I've a book review of John Irving's 13th novel, IN ONE PERSON, up this week at Oregon Live.  

Oh where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy .... 

By the end of "In One Person," Billy has been all over, but never to seek a wife. John Irving's 13th novel tells the story of Billy Abbott, a bisexual man who struggles with his attraction to men, women and transgendered individuals as the world changes around him. Irving courts his familiar obsessions in this picaresque novel -- missing fathers, strong mothers, New England boarding schools, wrestling, friendship, forbidden sex and self-discovery. He also focuses on issues of social justice, primarily gender identity and acceptance and the long journey from secret "crushes on the wrong people" to schools with sanctioned LGBTQ groups. 

At the novel's start Billy is a 13-year-old fatherless boy living with his mother and grandparents in First Sister, Vt. The adult males in Billy's world are often lovingly bumbleheaded and nearly always have a tender and resigned tolerance of Billy's sexual proclivities. His grandfather Harry, a lumberjack by day and cross-dressing thespian in his spare time, drops his g's and speaks in a folksy voice to deliver advice like, "Respect Bill for who he is, Mary. What are you gonna do -- change his genes, or somethin'?" 

Miss Frost, a mystifying and glorious transsexual librarian, offers guidance with more than his choices in literature. His Uncle Bob, an administrator at the Favorite River Academy, and his stepfather Richard, a Shakespearean scholar, offer him solace and understanding in his confusion around his sexuality and key information in his search to know himself and his family history. 

The women in Billy's family are not so helpful.


Rolling along with the 100 Days Project

Less than 100 days to SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME launch.  June 26 I'll be doing something scary and thrilling and new. I'll be reading at Powell's Books. Pinch me...Feeling humbled and daunted, and in honor of the event, I'm taking on a tiny new thing, sometimes scary, sometimes thrilling and sometimes silly (come on, it's 100 things!) everyday.  Some highlights:

Day 69: Accessed my inner plumber and unclogged the drain.Day 61: Cooking class with my sweet husbandDay 60: Fruits of our class, made a strawberry/rhubarb tartDay 59: Clipped in for a ride on my new bikeDay 58: Zumba class! man0man i was sore...Day 45: Hiking in the gorge, this is behind horsetail fallsDay 44: Finished a draft of my novel!!Day 54: Book schwag and a hottie to model it for me!


Work on the Web




     Quick and Exciting News #1: 
     I have work available online.  Check out my story,
     "Developmental Blah Blah" serialized all week over 
     at the great website, Five Chapters.











     Quick and exciting news #2:
     My publisher made a free excerpt available over at Scribd

     Upload, download, freeload three stories from my collection
     onto your e-reader.  Enjoy!









Failure, Icebergs and The Perfect Shade of Orange

Shout Her Lovely Name








My books arrived and they are amazing, beautiful.  I feel such a debt of gratitude to the designer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Thank you, for the lovely image on the cover, for the matte finish, for the scribbly details on the flyleaf.  Even the spine, it’s my favorite shade of orange. 


I now have this beautiful book to hold in my hand—and, I never knew it would happen.  All the years spent at my desk, in coffee houses, at the library, engrossed, dreaming, struggling, disbelieving, once in a while laughing out loud at the things my characters said and did, have come to make something tangible that will go out into the world.  I’m proud of it.  And, I’m a wee scared.  Not of bad reviews, though I am chilled by those worries, but of how readers will respond.  Will the work touch them?  Will they relate to the emotional truths behind the events and yearnings of my characters’ lives? I read an upcoming review that had many nice things to say (so grateful) but then it also described one of my characters, Sally, as bitter and sullen.   Of course people will filter the stories through their own experiences and make the stories theirs, that’s one of the pleasures of reading, but I feel, in this description of Sally, that I missed my mark.  I wanted the character to be received as disappointed, resigned, and in the limited way available to her, loving.  The disconnect between my intentions and what the reviewer received speaks to the Theory of Omission, or Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory.  Hemingway believed that the crux of a story must exist below the surface, not on the page.  What is on the page has to then lead a reader towards an emotional truth.  And I agree, when I read I never want to be told how to feel.  And so, the writer with a particular story to tell, with a particular vision, has no easy task.  If God is in the details, which details?


Sarah Menkes Hart





 When I read the review I felt that I had failed my character.  The fact that she’s loosely based upon my beloved grandmother first made me blanch at the words bitter and sullen, and then made me think.  Maybe I had touched upon a truth of her life that I’d never seen as a child.  In what I know of my grandmother’s life, she had every right to be bitter and sullen—married to a gregarious and abusive alcoholic, she suffered the death of her young daughter, was unfilled in her artistic life.  I suppose what is truly amazing and speaks to her resilience and strength is that I, her granddaughter, never saw her as bitter or sullen.  Maybe where I failed in writing the story was in striving to remain true to what my grandmother wanted me to see.  I failed by trying to honor her particular recreation of herself as solely the loving and doting grandma I adored.  


So then, what is the responsibility of the writer who chooses to use some autobiographical material?  The writer Dorothy Gallagher said, The writers’ business is to find the shape in an unruly life and to serve her story.  Not, you may note, to serve her family, or to serve the truth, but to serve the story.  Sally revealed as bitter and sullen, diminishes and expands her, the portrayal serves the arc of the story.  And so, as this beautiful thing I hold in my hand is about to go out into the world, I have to let go of expectations around what I brought to the pages and welcome what readers bring, which is certain to be rich.



Whole Crazy Mix




Disquieting, almost unbearably sad,
painful truths, bitter, sullen, anger regret loneliness,
depressed, fraught tug-of-war between love and hate





These are some of the descriptors reviewers in O Magazine, The Wall St. Journal, BookPage, Shelf Awareness and other spots have used in speaking about my book.  I want to start by saying, thank you!  Thank you for reading my book and for taking time to write out and share your thoughts.  Wow!  That’s a real and amazing gift to me.  I also want to say, yes!  You are correct.  All of those emotions reside in my work.  My stories are primarily about family, about our most important relationships, and I certainly don’t know of any family that doesn’t generate a heap of disquiet, pain, anger, regret—but I also want to say—really?  When I read over that list, I cringe.  I hope readers don’t think that just because I write about these tough and unpleasant emotions that I am tough and unpleasant.  Of course I’ve been all of them, bitter, sullen, regretful, angry etc… at times, but overall I consider myself pretty happy, cheerful even.  I practice yoga. I sing to my dog. I bake, host dinner parties.  I set flowers out in vases. I’m no Debbie-downer (no offense to any Debbie’s out there). 


Yet, this emotional catalog of my work rocked my foundation a little.  It led me to think about how I move around in the world and how people receive me.  Sometimes, while waiting at a stoplight, I notice the person beside me, their face reflecting disappointment, regret, anger, and my worry is two part—about them and the perhaps sad state of my community—and also about me and the expression I wear on my own face.  Perhaps the other driver is perfectly relaxed and the expression is just what their features do in repose.  What do my features do in repose?  Whenever someone says to me, I saw you walking your dog, the first thing I think is, oh-oh, I hope I didn’t look upset, angry, or sad.  The work of the photographer Cindy Sherman, in addition to looking at transformation, explores exactly this gap, the space between what we think we expose of ourselves to the world and what the world actually receives.  I am very interested in that gap. It’s one thing I explore in my writing.


The reviews also got me to thinking about what/who I like to read.


Grateful and Amazed



It's just one day to book launch and I'm feeling pretty fizzy inside.  Paying bills and folding laundry, walking the dog, grocery shopping, just trying to stay grounded today!  I am so grateful for all the attention the book has received so far.  Just to name a few, BookPageWall St. Journal, Houston Chronicle, the Oregonian, and O Magazine!!  Thanks to all.  


New Work on the Web

Empty Next: Full Bowl at the wonderful Culinate Website
In which I out my husband and reveal our dining secrets!
Hot Soup on a Cold Night at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers website
In which I speak about the essentials: reading, writing, cooking!


Tiny Book Tour

Thanks so much to all who attended the readings on my Tiny Book Tour.  I have been having a blast and love-love seeing all your beautiful faces. 



Portland, you are amazing, sold out of the book at Powell’s and yet I took home leftover cupcakes from the after party.  What a town!  A voracious appetite for books and a polite, I’ll have just one please, for the sweet treat.  (FYI for other height challenged authors: wear heels.  The podium at Powell’s on Burnside is tall.) 








Santa Cruz, I cannot believe all the love in the room.  Thank you. I am humbled.  My seventh grade drama teacher, my first writing teacher, my children’s kindergarten teacher, family, old and new friends alike, I am so lucky.  Sold out of the book the day before the reading and I offer giant thanks to the Capitola Book Café for heroic efforts to stock more books.    







And I was gifted another wonderful Portland reading/party with neighbors and friends on a lovely summer eve.  Thanks to Julie Wallace of Wallace Books for turning the breakfast nook into a bookshop.  Thanks to my pals for making such a delicious spread and inviting everyone they know.  I am a lucky woman.








Still to come this summer:

Annie Bloom’s Books on July 10 @ 7:00

Show:Tell Writing & Art Camp on July 25 @ 3:00

Elliott Bay Books on August 23, time TBA


Care Package

I am so happy to have a personal essay up over at the badass Rumpus website.  In it I discuss blue mascara, Goldfish, calling 911 and leaving home.  Here's a taste:


Across the continent my sweet girl has been crying herself to sleep at night.  She told me this in a mouse voice—small and deflated.  I heard the scrape of hangers on her end of the line.  She, in Brooklyn, shopping at a thrift store for a sheepskin coat, preparing for her first New York winter; me, in Portland, shopping for mascara to send in a care package to her college address.  I put down the tiny pot of eye cream that had distracted me with its promise of miracles—taut, bright skin, Spanx for the eye zone—and listened to my daughter talk of her loneliness, a spidery agitation growing in my chest.  I know her nighttime sorrow.  I know it is a perfectly normal, even character building experience for a plucky young woman embarking upon the next phase of her life, surprised by a bout of homesickness and too far away to hop in the car for a weekend in her childhood bed.  But moments like this, remote from her, unable to wrap her in my arms, fill me with a faint floating sadness.  No one wants to feel alone.  “Oh Lovely, what can I do?”  Read more


How To:



Last Sunday the NYTs Book Review ran its nifty how to issue.  It seems that the only two pieces listed on the cover written women were about cooking and raising children.  “Judith Warner on How to Raise Your Kids” and “Kate Christensen on How to Cook a Clam.” Other how to pieces included, “Roger Rosenblatt on How to Write Great” and “Garry Willis on How to Win an Election.”  Molly Templeton had feelings:


That cover made me feel like I was in a time warp. There is nothing wrong with cooking and raising children; there are lots of things right and wonderful with these pursuits. They are also, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, traditionally female tasks.  Read more here.


So, she started a community tumblr for all of us ladies to share what we know how to do.  Along with How to Pack Like a Champ, you'll find instructions on dancing like a sixth grader, loving your mother, being a fisherwoman, avoiding jet lag, and reading in public.  Find them all here.




Read mine here: How to Promote Your Book Without Knowing How to Promote Your Book


Bad Mother Oeuvre: Possible Restitution?


My kids thrill at trotting out the bad mother stories.  Both of them love to rekindle their outrage over me paying our son a buck (maybe it was two) to allow his little sister to spy on him and his friends one afternoon.  He complained she wouldn’t go away, I offered a buck so he would let her “hide” under the bed while they played with Beanie Babies.  Apparently this was very bad and wrong.  Mia Culpa, I was trying to get dinner ready, it seemed the quickest solution, everyone was happy long enough for me to sauté some onions and get a meatloaf in the oven.  I’m sorry.   I had no idea of the moral ramifications.  They also like to regale a table full of dinner guests with the story of me freezing their beloved goldfish.  I know; this one does have serious moral ramifications.  But, in my defense, Blackie had a large tumor and could only swim backwards.  He lived in our bathroom and would watch me with buggy despondent eyes as he swam away from my peering face.  I couldn’t bring myself to flush him.  So, I put the entire fishbowl in the freezer and, well, you can imagine.


New York Times Book Review

When I was an undergrad, majoring in English with a writing emphasis, I had a Monday afternoon ritual.  I would go to the bookstore and buy a copy of the NYTs Book Review.  I'd then go to C'est Si Bon Bakery in Newport Beach, have a brioche and a coffee creme and read it, cover to cover.  Of course I dreamed I would someday have a book reviewed in the pages and now I do.  I'm pinching myself hard and I still cannot believe it.  So happy!  So lucky!  So grateful!  Thank you NYTs and Ms. Romm.




Side Effects by Robin Romm

Published: September 7, 2012



When 14-year-old Nora gets a pair of diamond earrings in the mail from the father she’s never met, her mother, Ruby, looks at them and dryly remarks, “They’re the size of birth control pills.”

It’s an excellent line, rich with subtext, the kind Natalie Serber delivers again and again in “Shout Her Lovely Name,” her nuanced and smart collection of stories. Nora ignores the birth control remark; her silence is as powerful a retort as any. Proud that she had to sign for the special delivery herself, she enjoys the “fractured light” the diamonds reflect on her face. The pleasure, however, will prove fleeting. When she finally meets her father in Chicago (in a gripping set of scenes), the fractures eclipse the shine.

Diamonds, Ruby — in these stories, women are subject to appraisals from men and one another, and questions arise about the random and suspect ways women attain personal and social value. As it happens, Nora’s father turns out to be in the jewelry business.  (read full review here.)



Litquake Interview- In which I talk, talk, and talk



Recently I was lucky to be interviewed by the crew over at LitQuake, the literary festival happening in San Francisco, October 5th thru the 13th.   I thought I'd share some of that here.


What is your favorite book?

So many, how can I answer this?  I love The Stories of John Cheever, by Cheever; Gryphon, by Charles Baxter; Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, by Lorrie Moore; Howard's End, by E.M. Forster; Drown, by Junot Diaz. Adore Boys of My Youth, by Jo Ann Beard.  I could keep going.


Who is your favorite writer?  

Besides the ones I already mentioned, Deborah Eisenberg, Alice Munro, George Saunders, Jhumpa Lahiri, Robert Boswell, Antonya Nelson, oh and E.B. White.


If the answers to the first two questions are different, why?

It isn’t that the answers are different, it’s that I mashed up the questions to shout out to many beloved writers.  Their voices have accompanied me through dark nights and bright times and made me feel less alone.  I consider them friends and teachers though (mostly) we’ve never met.


How old were you when you were first published? 

I was in my mid-thirties when I published my story, “This is So Not Me.” The story came to me in a two week rush and I think it came so easily because the voice of the first person narrator, Shelby, felt strong and true.


When and how do you write?


Two Opportunities




Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On  the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, the blog welcomes: Me!! My day included coffee, coyotes, iconic red chairs and quesadillas!




Kari Moran interviewed me for her web based book show,
BookRadio.  We had a lovely conversation.  Here's what Kari had to say on her page: "In her debut, Author Natalie Serber draws on her past to offer readers 11 richly drawn short stories…most involving the complex connectedness between single-mother Ruby Hargrove and her daughter, Nora. Serber uses irony, humor and poignant observations to deliver stories spanning Ruby and Nora’s coming of age in the 60’s through the 80’s."


I'm super grateful for both opportunities. 

Take good care,




LitQuake: What fun!


The nice peeps at LitQuake, not only did Kung-Fu Panda have my back, they recorded my reading.  Listen here if you like!


In Other News



Exciting News!

SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME makes notable lists. So grateful for the wonderful attention and to be in such grand company.  The OregonianSan Francisco Chronicle and New York Times.


More Other News!


So happy and proud to have a review in the Sunday New York Times. Read it here.  "My Escapee: Stories" by Corinna Vallianatos is a gorgeous collection.  I was lucky to have it plunked in my lap. 


The Next Big Thing


NOTE: The Next Big Thing is a blog series, winding its way through the internet. Today, I’m delighted to participate by answering a few questions about my project.  Big Thanks to Nan Cuba for inviting me to join in.  You can find out more about Nan's amazing forthcoming novel here.


The Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:


What is your working title of your book (or story)?

If This Had Been An Actual Emergency


Where did the idea come from for the book?

Preparing for a writing workshop I facilitated at the time, I was collecting images for my students to use as prompts and I pulled out two to keep for myself.  The first was a picture of twin sister — teenagers. They were leaning in toward a mirror, applying mascara and lip gloss.  They were so vulnerable and powerful at one and the same time. The second image was of an injured canary, one wing stretched painfully out, cradled within a man’s hands.  Somehow the dual images suggested a story to me.





Man-0-Man!  When it rains it pours.  I'm in the middle of a storm of half-packed boxes as we prepare to move.  Yep, we are downsizing...sort of.  Our home,  with empty children's bedrooms, drafty single pane windows, and big yard to care for, is too much. I read an article in the NYTs last winter, all about Real Estate Therapy and how after divorce, illness or death of a loved one, it can be beneficial for people to make a clean start.  After my dark winter, I could completely relate.  Hence, we're packing up, moving to a townhouse in a great and walkable neighborhood with fabulous restaurants (umm..Pok Pok!) in just two weeks.  As I write this post our new home is a hive of industrious people...painters, electricians, tile setters, floor-layers, cabinet installers...the list goes on and everyday some new wonderful thing happens over there.  Yesterday, light fixtures went in!  Today, our beautiful front door arrived.  Also, the trim was painted and I picked a terrible, inside-of-a-dill-pickle color. (That will be a do-over.)  Win some lose some, right?  Meanwhile we're preparing our current home for our tenants, touching up the paint, washing the windows, buying switch plates that have been missing for 5+ years, mending screens and the irrigation system, all the things we didn't do for ourselves but will eagerly do for another family.  Why is that?  We settle.  We stop seeing the dings and dust and dry lawn.   My big-hearted, ham-handed, sweet-smiling Great Uncle Bob always told me, "Nat-lee, never settle."  But we did.



In the midst of all the moving, my paperback is about to be released!  Yes, June 11 you can get a copy to scoop into a beach bag.  I adore the summery clean blue of the cover (perhaps that should be the trim color for the townhouse).  In honor of the release, I recently sat down with Judith Pullman at Oregon Arts Watch to talk about reading, writing, publishing and Lena Dunham.  We had a lively chat and I am so grateful to Judith for her smart questions and insights.  Check out the interview here.

Don't get me wrong, I love the first round of both the book and the dwelling.  We've lived in our current home for 11+ years.  This house has been filled with a lot of joyful noise and teenaged strife.  I also love the hardcover edition of SHOUT.   And, I'm ready for movement.  I'm having anticipatory love for my new study.  I'm loving the look and feel of the paperback edition.  I'm loving being over my sorrowful winter.  Let's go!


Peanut Butter and Jelly Trees


In Portland, where I live, the peanut butter and jelly trees are blooming. If you rub your hand on the underside of the large leaves, your fingers come away smelling like peanut butter. The white flowers are small trumpets and in the warm early autumn evenings, the air surrounding the trees smells sweet and tart, like jelly.  These trees in bloom, the Harlequin Glorybower, herald the early days of autumn.
        Something about the fall, the return of a daily rhythm, has always satisfied me.


What I Read On My Summer Vacation

I love visiting book groups.  I've been lucky this summer and have had the opportunity to visit a handful, to sit in the company of engaged readers, sip a glass of wine, or cup of tea, and talk about what we're reading.  One of the questions I'm often asked (besides the favorite question: how much, if any, of SHOUT is autobiographical!) is what am I reading.  So, here's a list of books I've loved and been lucky to review so far this year, along with links to the complete reviews as well as links to purchase from Indie Bound (click the image for purchase).  Enjoy.



SOMEONE, by Alice McDermott

A new novel by Alice McDermott is an event. SOMEONE is her first book in seven long years.    When my advance copy arrived, I placed it on my coffee table and lovingly glanced at it for a couple of days before I sat down with a cup of coffee and went inside. For that is what reading a novel by Alice McDermott does, it brings you inside a complex, beautiful and fully realized world. A world foreign from your own and yet, you find yourself thinking, again and again, yes I have felt that loneliness, I have felt that joy.  The world of "Someone" is 1930s Brooklyn, a middle class, Irish Catholic neighborhood where boisterous street stickball games are umpired by blind Billy Corrigan (he was "gassed in the war"), where girls gossip on front stoops, fathers emerge from the subway at day's end with the paper folded beneath their arms, and young women -- office workers -- stroll home in their spring coats, sunlight angles low down the street, soft and forgiving over everyone. It's a humble neighborhood of hollering, hosiery and haberdashery. It's Marie's neighborhood, the ordinary woman at the center of SOMEONE (click through to read full review)



THE LOWLAND, by Jhumpa Lahiri

THE LOWLAND, Jhumpa Lahiris expansive and intimate new novel explores the complex story of the Mitra family.  Loyalty and betrayal, lies and forgiveness, filial responsibility and abandonment, the choices and sacrifices we make to find our way in the world are beautifully wrought in this novel.  Subhash and Udayan are inseparable brothers. The bright lights of their parents lives, the boys grow up in Calcutta in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  It is not until they attend different universities that their paths begin to divide.  Udayan, the more passionate and incendiary, is gradually drawn into the Naxalite Movementa militant communist organization that strives to ameliorate the desperate poverty of the peasant class through acts of extreme violence.  Subhash, the dutiful and cautious older brother, chooses to leave Calcutta and continue his studies in the United States. (link to come, not online yet!)



THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, by Claire Messud

Nora Eldridge is full of good girl rage. For most of her life she has been a reliable and loving daughter, a trusted friend, a favorite third-grade teacher, and an on-again off-again artist. Dutiful has been her modus operandi. At the start of THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, Claire Messud's seething new novel, Nora is on the verge of a pedestrian midlife, having drinks with friends, thumbing through the Garnet Hill catalog, writing lesson plans, dabbling with her "shoebox art," fastidious, miniscule dioramas of artist's rooms.  (click through to read full review)





"You wonder about me. I wonder about you." So begins and ends A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING,  Ruth Ozeki's rich and engaging new novel. Two women on different continents have written these words, one in a diary and one in a letter. One of the writers is Nao (pronounced now), a depressed 16-year-old with a voice both funny and heartbreaking. The other is Ruth, a blocked, middle-aged novelist. Both reach across oceans and time, hoping to connect and yet never knowing if their words reach another person. (click through to read full review)



I recently had a delightful exchange with Cortnee Howard over at the Best Damn: Getting Your Literary Life website.  I'm always grateful to engage with readers and Cortnee asked some terrific questions.  Check it out.  




I feel bad about my blog.  I haven’t visited for months.  Not because I forget, au contraire, I think about it often.  It’s like a neglected plant that I keep forgetting to water.  It just sits there in the corner, all droopy and accusatory.  Yet like the potting soil, my mind goes dry whenever I think about the blog (usually at a stop light or right before I fall asleep). Nothing seems postworthy... 

And then our family had this cruddy holiday season—uncovered lies, nasty outbursts, a latke grease fire, cathartic weeping, crashing on a neighbors couch, interspersed with good food, lovely homemade gifts, apologies, friends, the small kindness of coffee served in bed—really it was like the worst holiday movie ever, all the heartbreaking scenes from “The Family Stone” and “Home for the Holidays” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” with tiny bits of slapstick, humor, and harmony.  If it’s any indication of how ready we were to say adieu to the season, our Christmas tree was naked and abandoned on the curb by 9:00 am the day after Christmas.  We’re a volatile bunch with exposed nerve endings and not afraid say how we feel. Of course, in the end we're all fine.  We hang together in the same inelegant way burlap holds together, big chunky gaps, itchy and sometimes ugly, but überfunctional. We exhaust and forgive and love one another. 

The emotional exhaustion of the season left me reeling and recognizing that all I can do is shift is my outlook.  Expectations always get me in trouble.   And so, my New Year’s Resolution:  find joy anywhere it pops up.  Hence my #onegoodthing project.  Everyday on facebook I’ll post the apex moment of my day.  And then on Sundays, I’ll post the week’s good moments here. Voila!  A blog post and a happy outlook.   Any readers that care to, please post your good thing, I’d love to know about it. 


1 January: gorgeous day at the Oregon coast: expansive horizon, the light, the company.


2 January: received TWO rejections today: they said: the piece succeeded on its own terms, especially strong closing paragraph, lovely essay, near miss, lacked a narrative hook, nice (this one feels particularly damning!), keep sending. Trying to upset my paradigm and see these rejections as an open invitation to dig deeper and submit again.


3 January: "Just a pimple, a minor irritation, end of story," said the Oncologist.

4 January: Songbirds! In Portland, in January.

Wishing you all #onegoodthing each and every day.  Happy New Year.


Goodbye to My Hometown Bookseller


Though I no longer live in Santa Cruz, the news that a beloved bookstore will be closing at the end of February, hit me hard. I visited Capitola Book Cafe as a young women who dreamed of someday writing a novel. I discovered writers that inspired me, browsed the cookbook section planning dinner parties, dreamed of great trips in the travel section. One of my first writing groups ever met in the attic. I drank coffee, ate scones and wrote stories in the cafe. When my children were small we would stop in after   preschool to have a cookie and read Kevin Henkes books. Later, I brought them to the midnight release parties for Harry Potter. My husband went to his first author reading at The Capitola Book Cafe.  He saw Ann Packer read from her book, The Dive From Clausen's Pier, and he made the gaff of asking, incredulous, "How could you end it book that way?" offering up a huge spoiler. Ms. Packer told him, graciously, "Some people may not have read the book."  And my poor husband was so mortified.  She and the staff and the other readers made him feel fine.  It was a gracious moment at the book cafe.  Oh, and the authors I heard…Sherman Alexie whose voiced boomed over the explosions seeping through the walls of the adjacent movie theatre, Adrienne Rich, Andre Dubus III, so many I cannot recount. Then the cafe was kind to invite me to read at the store at the launch of my book. It was truly a homecoming for me.  My 7th grade English teacher, my first Creative Writing teacher, family and friends were all there.  What a generous and supportive community. I feel very lucky to have had the book cafe as a feature in my life in Santa Cruz. I will miss them terribly.


Writer, With Kids





Recently the writer, Cari Luna, invited me to participate in her blog, Writer, With Kids.  Luna is the author of the highly readable novel, The Revolution of Everyday, from Tin House Books.  You can read my Oregonian review of her highly readable novel here. Below is an excerpt from the interview. 

How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?

Before children, I never felt the joy/fear mix so fully. The awe and wonder of holding your baby, along with this suddenly deep deep connection you have with your partner as you two share the intimate knowledge and appreciation of this new little being. Parenthood blew open the doors of my heart.

In relation to my writing, being a mother made me more compassionate, empathetic, and open. It made me understand how important it is for a writer to have great affection for her characters, no matter how much they screw up, no matter how much you might not want to eat dinner with them, you have to recognize and honor their complexity, their ability to surprise you. (Think teenagers here!) No judging.

Read the full interview!




Dinner & A Story




This month’s story is from the wonderful Maile Meloy.  I’ve been a fan of her stories since I stumbled upon her terrific collection, Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It.  When I opened up my June 23rd New Yorker I was thrilled to see a story from Ms. Meloy. 



Madame Lazarus” is the story of a heavily loaded gift between lovers.  A newly    retired   French gentleman receives the gift of a small dog from his partner.  At first the narrator resists the sweet terrier, Cordelia, as he rightfully recognizes her as a first step in his lover’s retreat.


(It is funny how a gesture, like the gift of a puppy, can foretell the end of a relationship.  When I was young and unhappy in my first marriage, planning on leaving but not certain how to go about it, I learned how to tune up my car, change the spark plugs, etc…  I remember one afternoon, I was washing and vacuuming my Volvo 122s and my husband looked out the window and said, “Your leaving me.” He was right.)  



As any dog-loving person would suspect, our French gentleman comes to adore his dog.  When he walks Cordelia around Paris he finds that people who might have ignored him before now speak to him.   He says of Cordelia, “At first I believed that the appearance of love from a dog is only a strategy, to win protection.  Cordelia chose me because I was the one to feed her and to chase away the hawks and the wolves.  But after a time we crossed over a line, Cordelia and I.  We went out each day to chase the pigeons and smell the piss of other dogs on the trees, and we came home to read the paper.”  The story follows the unraveling relationship of the narrator and his lover, the grip Cordelia gains on the narrator's heart, and the way in which the man and dog age together.


Dinner & A Story






     I always tell my writing students to make a bold entrance with their stories, capture the reader's attention, invite curiosity. Consider the first line from “Love Is Not A Pie,” this month’s story by Amy Bloom,  from her collection, Come To Me.

In the middle of the eulogy at my mother’s boring and heartbreaking funeral, I began to think about calling off the wedding.


     Bang! I’m in. Funeral and wedding, boring and heartbreaking, this is a narrator with a story I want to hear. Bloom moves us from the funeral to the house for the mourners to gather and then back in time to an idyllic summer at this family’s lakeside cabin in Maine. She captures the easy elegance of the lost mother, the heart of this family, who’s summer outfit is a black swimsuit, who makes sangria on rainy days and has three simple rules of summer: “Don’t eat food with mold or insects on it; don’t swim alone; don’t even think of waking your mother before 8:00 A.M. unless you are fatally injured or ill.” 


     The vacation unfurls with lake swims and romps in the woods, family friends come to stay, Mr. DeCuervo and his daughter, who blend with the family beautifully. Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin play on the stereo, and the narrator, Ellen, notices something different about the relationships between the three grownups. When everyone dances together in the living room, her mother and father dance goofily, but between Mr. DeCuervo and her mother there is intimacy and beauty in their movements. Later, Ellen, catches her mother embracing Mr. DeCuervo in the night, her hand beneath his white t-shirt, and she is curious, uncertain. Before the summer’s end, the daughter glimpses something in her parent’s bedroom and again, doesn’t quite know what to make of the adult's behavior. Time moves seamlessly forward, back to the mourners where Ellen and her sister discuss that summer at the cabin, their mother’s slow demise, and her relationship with the two men. As much as I want to talk about this with you, to say more…I’m holding back.  All you need to know is that this story explores the huge capacity of our hearts.


     When the mother is dying, she has a conversation with her daughter Lizzie, who wonders about Mr. DeCuervo.  The mother says, “Love is not a pie, honey.” She goes on to explain that she loves people differently, her two men, her two daughters.  “And when the two of them are in the same room together and you two girls are with us, I know that I am living in a state of grace.”  After you’ve read, “Love Is Not A Pie,” and PLEASE, do yourself a favor and read this beautiful story, talk to me in the comments below. 




     How to match the grace of this mother and the big heart of this story? With a galette of course, almost a pie, but more forgiving, more generous. It comes to the table with its free form elegance, the tender crust offering homey comfort for the sweet and savory. I was delighted to find two wonderful galette recipes in the New York Times and I made them both with a few modifications.




For the Summer Vegetable Galette, I replaced the white flour with buckwheat flour with terrific results. I used all the vegetables they recommended in the recipe, though you could easily switch things around as the seasons change.  I imagine a very delicious Autumn Vegetable Galette with butternut squash and chantrelles and a sprinkle of blue cheese.




Peaches, nectarines and chester berries filled my Fruit Galette. I omitted the sugar, replaced the cream with maple syrup, used whole wheat pastry flour in place of white. And, I substituted 1/3 cup of the flour with 1/3 cup of ground walnuts. Delicious!





All you need to complete the meal, lightly dressed salad greens, and someone you love. (It helps if the someone you love, loves to eat and lets you know it!) In honor of Lila, the mother in the story, I’d suggest serving Sangria.  Happy reading, happy eating and happy end of summer.