SHORT STORIES

SHORT STORIES

TODAY A WOMAN WENT MAD IN THE SUPERMARKET by Hilma Wolitzer (Bloomsbury £14.99, 208 pp)

TODAY A WOMAN WENT MAD IN THE SUPERMARKET

by Hilma Wolitzer

(Bloomsbury £14.99, 208 pp)

There are equal amounts of drollery and despair in these wonderful stories.

This collection contains 13, written mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, with the final one, The Great Escape, arriving in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The themes are familiar — motherhood and marriage and the toll they exact — but Wolitzer’s take is fresh and funny and finely tuned to the carefree moments that lighten the emotional load.

The best stories are the ones that chart the marriage of Paulie (Paulette) and Howard, a complicated, relatable relationship, described with mordant wit by the delectable Paulie, whose sunny disposition and rampaging insomnia act as a foil to handsome, sexually irresistible Howard (who over the years becomes ‘grizzled and paunchy and grey’).

She wrestles with his infidelities, hypochondria and intermittent depression, while wholeheartedly fancying him.

It’s so beautifully done, sly and spry, the perfect mixture of funny and sad, which tips over into grief in the last tale as the virus hits, and Paulie, ever the truth-teller, says: ‘It seemed as if it would all go on for ever in that exquisitely boring and beautiful way. But of course it wouldn’t; everyone knows that.’

THINGS WE DO NOT TELLTHE PEOPLE WE LOVE

by Huma Qureshi

(Sceptre £16.99, 192 pp)

THERE’S a sense of constriction and claustrophobia in Huma Qureshi’s stories, of words left unsaid, secretive thoughts unexpressed, situations where women (for the most part) are uncomfortably caught between their Pakistani heritage, family expectations and their own needs.

The prose is clear and clean and works best in the stories where the emotions Huma describes are equally stripped back; the tired, quiet despair of a new mother dealing with an insensitive partner, her own writerly life on hold as she cares for the baby (Waterlogged), or the almost sweet sadness of recalling a tempestuous friend who’s no longer around (Firecracker).

Occasionally, the weight of all that feeling and frustration drives the stories towards melodrama; as in the award–winning The Jam Maker, where matricide seems to be on the cards in the bucolic setting of an English village. But the opening story, Premonition, delicately delineates the fizzy pleasure of an illicit teenage crush and the less than sparkling consequences for the narrator whose life and reputation is badly bruised by the fallout of a stolen kiss.

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