Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Forgetting English by Midge Raymond

The eight stories in this slim collection revolve around the theme of displacement. The sense of alienation underlying all these stories is literal; all the main characters are away from home, usually in a foreign country. But the sense of alienation becomes metaphorical because the women in these stories are emotionally wounded, alienated from their former lives and from themselves. Each has experienced an unsettling emotional situation that causes her to flee from home. Most of the stories begin well after a heartbreak of one kind or another, a husband’s affair, a lost job, the end of a romance.
Forgetting English refers to the characters presence in non-English speaking countries, namely Tonga, Africa, China. The title is interesting also because most of the protagonists seem unable to forget their troubled pasts, they are unable to “get on with their lives,” as a self-help book consulted by the narrator of “Rest of World” instructs.
The endings of the stories do not provide easy epiphanies or even the hard won insights of suffering. Many of the stories end with a single image that reflects the protagonist’s emotional state; The image of a female penguin mourning the loss of her chick in “The Ecstatic Cry,” or the memory of touching the cold face of a stone figure in “Translation Memory.” Only “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean” ends on a positive note, the narrator following the sound of a man’s voice in the dark.
Together these stories express a deep longing for connection among characters who have somehow become estranged from themselves and others. The overall tone is one of melancholy and reflection. I prefer short collections of short stories, because, like the stories themselves, they can be read in a shorter space of time, the effects of each story accumulating into one complex experience. This collection is emotionally and stylistically consistent, and the events of these stories accrued to create the sense of a weary traveler who wants to return home, only she doesn’t know where that is.
You can purchase the novel here.


Midge said...

Thanks so much for this lovely review!

The book is available through Amazon on the Kindle, but because it's not yet with its new distributor, those wanting a paperback version can order one through my web site:

Thanks again!

Nik said...

I've been thinking about this post for awhile. One thing that I find interesting about short-stories is that one image that reflects the narrator's emotional state. To me, it can be a too-easy move where the image stands for too much. But when the image is woven in throughout and allowed to stand on its own as well as a metaphor, then I think it's very cool. I'll have to check out Midge's book!