Friday, June 24, 2016

Review and Author Interview: You May See a Stranger by Paula Whyman

Title: You May See a Stranger
Author: Paula Whyman
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Triquarterly Press
Publish Date: May 15, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Miranda Weber is a hot mess. In Paula Whyman’s debut collection of stories, we find her hoarding duct tape to ward off terrorists, stumbling into a drug run with a crackhead, and—frequently—enduring the bad behavior of men. A drivers’ education class pulsing with racial tension is the unexpected context of her sexual awakening. As she comes of age, and in the three decades that follow, the potential for violence always hovers nearby. She’s haunted by the fate of her disabled sister and—thanks to the crack cocaine epidemic of the ’80s, the wars in the Middle East, and sniper attacks—the threat of crime and terror in her hometown of Washington, D.C. Miranda can be lascivious, sardonic, and maddeningly self-destructive, but, no matter what befalls her, she never loses her sharp wit or powers of observation, which illuminate both her own life and her strange, unsettling times."

My Two Cents:

 "You May See a Stranger" is a set of linked stories that follow Miranda, a complicated woman who seems to have a penchant for getting lost in her thoughts and letting them take a hold. The stories follow her from the time that she was 15 years old until she is middle aged. Each story captures a glimpse of her at different stages of her life and we see how she has and has not changed in each one. While feeling at arm's length from the main character, the writing thoroughly drew me in!

This is a really unique story collection. I have found that in many of the other short story collections I've read, they mostly are completely different stories. There are some collections that I have read that have a group of characters that they followed but having each story follow the same character in this book was a really unique experience for me! I loved seeing Miranda change at every age. It was such a great perspective! Obviously she grows up but I love how the author was able to build on her experiences throughout the book and show how some of the things she faced continued to almost haunt her as she got older. It made Miranda feel more real to me. Although the stories followed the same character, I was still especially drawn to one story in particular about Miranda at dinner having lobster. The way that the author plays with words and ideas in that story is especially striking.

The writing of this book was good. It is up to the reader to fill in some of the spaces between the various stories. I found that I wanted to get to know Miranda a little more between the stories but the writing really kept me engaged in reading about her life. The author has skill with creating realistic dialogue that drew me in. I am looking forward to reading more by Ms. Whyman!

Author Interview:

I am thrilled to have Paula Whyman here on A Bookish Affair today (Sorry, Paula, I don't think Mr. Roth would agree to talk me either! Hah!)

  1. What inspired you to write "You May See a Stranger?"

When The Hudson Review published an earlier version of the story “Driver’s Education,” I visited a school in Harlem to talk with students who had read the story. They wanted to know if I’d be writing more about that girl. (In that story the character now known as Miranda is 15 years old; she ages during the course of the book, which takes her to middle age.) Back then, I had no plans to write more stories about her. But the students’ enthusiasm and curiosity stayed with me. Years later, I found that I was writing stories that could be about the same person at different times in her life. That’s when I began exploring the character intentionally and planning a linked collection.

  1. So many books about Washington, D.C. are about politics or spies. What drew you to showing a different side of the Nation's Capital?

I wanted to write a book about regular people living in the D.C. area. Not everyone here is tied to the government. We’re all operated on by it and interact with it, of course, but the general perspective on D.C. by people who are from elsewhere is that everyone here is ambitious and interested in power. People come here from all over to have that experience, to fulfill that dream. But the rest of us –most of us--are just living our lives, and we have little contact with that world other than getting stuck in traffic when the President makes a “movement.” We hardly ever see that “real” side of DC in books and movies. There are notable, wonderful, exceptions—books by Edward P. Jones and Dinaw Mengestu, for instance.

  1. What's your favorite scene in "You May See a Stranger?"

That’s a tough question. I don’t have a favorite, but I can tell you a few scenes that I’m proud of—the lobster scene in the title story is one; the scene where Miranda discusses the change of life with Dr. Nina is another; and the scene where Miranda is imagining what’s happening with the couple who live in the apartment above her sister’s.

  1. This is your first book! Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I think there’s no better preparation for writing than reading. Read the classics, read contemporary literary fiction, and read some trashy novels. I learned something different and useful from all of them. People can disagree about one classic versus another, but many of them have lasted for a reason. I found it helpful to examine what it is that makes them work. As a teenager, I alternated among books like The Brothers Karamazov, Light in August…and The Americans series by John Jakes. The Americans is historical fiction in that the characters take their clothes off at important moments in U.S. history. I read those books in the back of algebra class. I don’t remember much algebra.

5. If you could bring any three people (alive, fictional or dead) to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?

I decided to restrict myself to living authors whom I have not met. I’m assuming there will be some writing studios on this island. I’m imagining it a lot like a small artist residency… I would bring Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, and Edward O. Wilson. I’m a big admirer of all three. Roth would probably not want to spend much time with us, but I hope he’d at least be willing to have dinner now and then. I have to think Lorrie Moore has a good sense of humor, and we could make snarky comments together when Roth refuses to join us for dinner. And Edward O. Wilson has a million great stories to tell that I would love to hear, plus he’d be able to identify all the ants on the island and would know everything there is to know about the island ecosystems. So, can you arrange this? I’ve already started packing.


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