I first read Valerie Trueblood's Seven Loves a few years ago and was knocked out by the exquisite language and the genius of the story. Marry or Burn, her new and astonishing collection of short stories (She's been compared to Alice Munro, and rightly so), examines the thorny path love and commitment can take. I asked Valerie if she would write a guest post, and I can't tell you how truly honored and thrilled I am that she agreed. Thank you, thank you, Valerie.
A wedding is a good place to think. We cry at the start as the bride comes forward, smile at the end as the couple sweeps past, but in between, while people get up and down, hand each other things, read from shaking pieces of paper, there’s a lull. Despite the voices, it seems as if a mute has been put on the scene. That’s when I try, in the pew or the little plastic chair sinking into the grass, to formulate a position.
Is marriage a good thing?
Is it a good thing with a lot of bad things happening in it? Is it a bad thing with a lot of good people in it trying to make improvements? Is it a natural state? Do we have to live in pairs? Is that even the pattern any more, or are we replacing it with something else, and if so, what?
I didn’t just decide one day to write a book of stories about marriage. In fact now I’d like to experiment with a landscape in which it does not figure—for instance a series of stories that never use the word “wife.” But I was sitting on the floor looking through a pile of stories, and just as I started to read “Invisible River,” a story about an inauspicious wedding, the title came to me: MARRY OR BURN. It’s from that letter of Paul’s to the Corinthians in which his advice to those who can’t be celibate is that it’s better to marry than to burn. The title called the book into being.
Right away I saw that the problem would be keeping stories out rather than finding ones to include. Whatever the subject, marriage would turn up, like the schoolkid who flaps her hand at every question.
Harper’s magazine puts together a wonderful list every month, the Index, made up of facts in odd combination and awful or comical statistics. There we learn that the chance an unmarried American under thirty says marriage is becoming obsolete is one in two. The chance that he or she wants to get married: 19 in 20.
But in my work I try to steer clear of irony. There doesn’t seem to be room for it in even the longest short story. Often when people want to give a story a compliment they say it has a novel in it; people have written to me that one story or another of mine is a miniature novel. (Will women writers ever see the end of the word “miniature”?) I don’t think so; I think the short story is a unique form and is working in territory where few novels go.
The long story that closes the book, “Beloved, You Looked Into Space,” had been with me for years, working its way out of a bitter center. For the bear attack alone I had to bury myself in books about animal attacks—very troubling for an animal lover, but fruitful in its paradoxes. The bear makes his appearance, but the story is really about a family, a father and two daughters, coming back from the death of the mother, over two decades that have blurred the grief but never annulled it. At the end the characters have tumbled through all this in memory, and exist for a moment, I hope, in the arrested, blessed state granted to weddings and to short stories.