When I was seventeen, one of my teachers gave me a copy of Raymond Carver's “They're Not
Your Husband”. I had only read a couple of short stories up to that point—Sherlock Holmes mysteries,
Kafka, Poe--and while they were all beautiful in their own right, it never occurred to me that fiction could be anything other than dense and/or cerebral. I didn't know what to expect when my teacher handed me this short story, but I had an ugly feeling that this was going to make me rethink everything I learned. You see, a couple of years earlier, when I was completely new to high school and the idea of taking English classes, this same teacher had torn my writing apart sentence by sentence. If I was going to get anywhere with him, I needed to accept the fact that we had totally different views on what good writing is, and that anything he gave me was going to make me feel completely uncomfortable in my own skin.
From the first paragraph, “They're Not Your Husband” shocked me in how terse and honest it was, in how much it covered in a small amount of space. More than that though, the blunt approach to the subject matter at hand, the fact that Carver can describe a woman who starves herself (“I pick at things”, she says, when asked about her weight loss.) and not shy away from showing you the most brutal details in her life...that resonated with me in a way that nothing I read before really did. The further I stepped from the story, the more concrete the image of the woman at war with her own body became. It wasn't long before I started to connect her to my own self-image issues—the chronic dieting, the compulsive need to exercise, the desire to be smaller, always smaller...
I don't remember if I wrote my first short story immediately after that class, but I remember staying in my seat long after everyone else had left, trying to think of a way to frame all of my feelings into some kind of narrative. The names and faces came to me, but the words that came with them felt inadequate somehow—too lush, too big. If I wanted to get across what his stories made me feel, then I needed to write more openly and honestly, to strip away the dense language and the heavy prose.
Since that class, I have had several stories published in various indie presses. My topics have evolved beyond dieting and body image, but I still try to write as openly as I can. Sometimes, this means feeling uncomfortable with what ends up on the page. Sometimes, this means going to a reading and having a style that is completely different from everyone else's. But no matter what happens, no matter where I am in my life or what I'm working on, I never regret reading that story.