April 9, 2014 by Reader's Connection
If you read novels, but avoid short story collections, you might want to break your rule for Joan Wickersham’s The News from Spain : Seven Variations on a Love Story. These stories work together in unusual ways.
I don’t think there are interrelated characters (I’m checking that out as I reread the book) but there are echoes among the stories, involving dancing and tunnels and males from Kentucky and biographers–with their fantasy that any person can really tell another person’s story–and homes by the sea.
Much of the first story takes place at a party, with a big illuminated tent and a hole in the hedge and rooms in the house where characters sneak off to smoke cigarettes or gossip; and the book is like that, many-chambered, many-pathed. Marriage and its depth and its dangers are given plenty of room, but the love-complications also involve mothers and daughters, sons and parents, teachers and students, doctors and patients, the disabled and their caretakers. It’s quite an offering, and I was disarmed by the the way even a single story could move around in time, and move from one love to another.
Wickersham’s writing is so intelligent that I’m feeling a compensatory urge to write about something stupid.
Did you ever see the Monty Python skit about the University of Wallamaloo? Probably a terrible insult to Australians. All the guys on the “faculty” of the “philosophy department” are named Bruce, and when a fellow with a different name joins the department, one of the Bruces says, “That’s going to cause a little confusion.”
I thought of that because each of the seven stories in Wickersham’s book has the same title: “The News from Spain.” The title always makes sense, but always in a different way.
When I saw that stories from the collection had been included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 and The Best American Short Stories 2013, I wondered how this all-the-same-title predicament would be handled. Each story in our book has a different number of dots at the top of the page, but that wouldn’t mean much in an anthology.
For this emergency situation, alternative titles have been created. When I saw “The Boys’ School, or the News from Spain” and “The Tunnel, or the News from Spain,” I knew right away which story was which, and thought, Lucky readers.
Yes, tunnels are mentioned in more than one story–the whole book, in fact, is tunneled–but I still knew which story that was.