Other Stories & Other Stories
thing is, I really need you with me in this story. But you’re
not home. You won’t be home for hours yet. I stand about in
the kitchen for a while not knowing what to do about it, because the
story is right at the front of my head and I decide to do something, I
decide to do the dishes… Standing at the sink I can imagine
you, sitting up on it with your legs swinging, eating an apple. So.
Listen to this. This is what happened… "
Reviewed by Mark Brown
science suggests that language developed beyond pure function as a
method of either gaining advantage or attracting a mate. In Other Stories and Other Stories,
Ali Smith’s second collection, published by Granta Books in
1999, stories are so important that they overlap each other, crowding
into each other, elbowing each other out of the way. For Smith, stories
are what make people love each other and are the evidence of it. They
are showing off, a peacock’s tail fan, both a come-on and a
is concerned with small stories, the stories that happen at the centre
of a life but do not mark the broad canvas of history. Her 2006
Accidental begins with a number of quotations, including
one from John Berger that equally informs an understanding of Other Stories and Other Stories:
“Between the experience of living a normal life at this
moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a
sense to that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous.”
ignores the cultural Richter scale and knows that the passing moment
changes lives as much as the detonation of bombs or encounters with
historic figures, individual stories being made from small events, not
large ones. For the most part, the stories in Other Stories and Other Stories
are stories about nothing and everything. In God’s gift,
the narrator, returned from holiday in Greece, finds a neighbourhood
cat has left the offering of a still living bird for her in the garden.
In Blank card,
a mysterious delivery of flowers reignites the passion of a
deaths sees an infestation of fleas. Okay so far’is
a short slice of a couple’s holiday travelling city to city
Smith’s narrators often address the ‘you’
of a partner, an intimate form more common in poetry than short
fiction. Her characters tell each other stories as a way of cementing
themselves to each other and revealing their vulnerabilities and hopes.
Often her characters think like writers. They are trapped in their own
heads by the vividness of their observation. They tell stories to
connect, to make personal experience into something shared.
In The theme is
power, the keystone of the collection, the narrator waits
for her partner to return home, so that she can be told the story of a
frightening event that happened in London when she was a teenager.
Doing the dishes, she imagines that her lover is there with her,
listening. The story is she tells is about her and Jackie, her first
love, arriving in London after three weeks travelling in Europe. They
encounter a frightening woman who offers them her flat for the night
then follows their bus all the way to Reading when they refuse. The
narrator, still addressing her partner, then tells of her Dad staying
with them, and how they visited an art gallery together, then of how,
when she was young, he meted out estate justice on a man who had
exposed himself to her, finishing with how his electrical shop failed
after a tax investigation that broke her mother’s heart. At
this point, the narrator has the imagined form of her partner
“(I still don’t really get the connection, you
say.) Well, no. Okay. Actually you don’t say anything,
you’re not home yet. But you’ll be home soon, so I
imagine your key in the door.” Talking with her actual
partner in bed when she finally arrives, the narrator finds reassurance
in her ability to cut the stories dead and reassert the objective
here-and-now reality of their love. Lying in bed, she ties the story
up, and she hopes that her first love is somewhere safe.
it with everyday language and recognisably normal events, Smith is an
experimental writer. Other
Stories and Other Stories is constructed from stories
filled with ‘other stories’ to such an extent that
at least three of them are actually a number of unconnected stories
forced into a relationship with each other by appearing under the same
than one story is the most obvious example, with two
different characters, an older man and a teenage student, telling
stories to themselves in lieu of any connection with each other. As
there is no relationship between them, so there is no relationship
between their stories. It is instructive the story most conventionally
written story is the most outlandish in subject matter. In The hanging girl,
Pauline is haunted by a hanged girl that no one else can see and forms
a surprisingly welcome relationship with her.
compassion and intimate delicacy run through Other Stories and Other Stories
so deeply as to set Smith aside from other cold-eyed prose stylists.
While playing games with narrative and consistently breaking the fourth
wall by pointing out the process of writing and constructing stories,
Smith never becomes separate, cynical or detached; the three greatest
temptations in formal experimentation. In fact, she suffuses her
writing with a generosity toward humanity, its potential for love and
its daily rhythms. She eschews the other great traps for modern short
story writers: self-conscious quirkiness and cod-surrealism.
Smith’s short stories are a map for a form of short story
that does not begin at Carver and end at McSweeneys. If looked at in
the correct light, they hold not only untapped depths as short stories
themselves, but suggest another way of approaching the short story,
marrying fierce exploration with burning compassion in a way that makes
love seem an inevitable consequence of living and shakes up ideas of
what the short story can achieve.
now lives in south-east London. His work has appeared in Punk Planet,
Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Transmission, Pen Pusher, Skive and Irk
amongst others. Between September 2006 and September 2007, Mark wrote
only 200 word short stories. He can be contacted at
Publication Date: 2004 (First published by Granta in
Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in
Cambridge. She is author of Free Love, Like, Other Stories and Other
Stories, Hotel World, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental
and Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis.
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