This book, published in 1999, was Winterson’s first collection of stories—seventeen of them—written over the course of her career to-date. I wanted to read these stories because I had very recently read her story, “The 24-Hour Dog,” in an anthology. I’m a dog-lover, so you will probably think that this story is treacly when I say that it put a tiny crack in my heart. But that is not the case. I had the feeling that, though the plot might be a product of imagination, the first-person narrator’s essential self was the writer’s. She writes: “He’s only a dog. Yes but he will find me out.” It is a one-line paragraph with lots of white space before and after it. I wanted to find out more about Jeanette Winterson.
So, I found and read her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Actually, I listened to her read it. An accent I could listen to all day…and such word craft. I wanted more.
I then moved on to the short stories in this book. As the title indicates, the stories are all over the map. I have found no connections among them, except that they are all human stories; humans trying to find their way in the world. How are we to live?
I always appreciate a touch of humor, and Winterson is very good at it. She was adopted by Pentecostal Christians. Her mother yearned for nothing more than the end of the world. Sometimes Winterson has to smile about a childhood spent failing her mother’s expectations for her. (“Why be happy when you could be normal” is a quote from her mother. The child in the final story of the collection longs for a pet… a dog, or how about a bunny. But the child’s mother will only agree only to a tortoise—a tortoise that is to be named Psalms, to concentrate the child’s mind on God and that book of the Bible. You will need to read the story to find out what happens to Psalms.