but thousands of bells clanged inside me

Dear Clarice, Rereading your stories after so long makes me feel as if I were looking through colour-stained glass: each story comes with the shadow of my previous reading of it. The shadow of how it felt like at the time; the stain of what I had not understood properly then, and do now; or…

And the book had broken right open

Dear Ali, Your most recent collection of short stories, framed around the massive closures of public libraries in the UK, borrows its core from the very idea of borrowing. Each of the 12 stories in this collection can be read as an exploration of what we borrow from what we read. Each story lends us something –…

She looks at him and feels happy, but the happiness is heavy

Dear Mary, Each of the women who inhabit your new collection of stories, Always Happy Hour (2017), is different in her own small way – and yet all of them seem to merge into each other in the end. Most of the stories are told in first-person narration by a woman in her late-twenties or…

The line of light marking the bottom of the locked door

Dear Lori, Your short-story collection The Bigness of the World (2009, 2016) followed me throughout a very pleasant trip by bike I made last May.  I confess it was somewhat strange to be reading about your wandering characters, while I was myself wandering through some small towns in Germany. There is a pervasive melancholy in each…

‘I couldn’t ever boil potatoes over the heat of your affection’

Dear Djuna, This letter should have been written back in February, when I read your book Smoke and Other Early Stories, but I kept postponing it, and there came other books, other letters to write. This week I was determined not to postpone any longer, and had actually started writing, but a bad cold put me…

The thing that was your bright treasure

Dear Alice, In each of the stories collected in your book Runaway (2004), the characters find themselves, in one way or another, confronted either with the desire to flee, or with the consequences of parting. Animals disappear, affections move on, opportunities are lost, feelings get out of control: all characters are in transit – in…