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Kelly Link’s “The Summer People” and a Writer’s Block Breakout

By on May 19, 2021 0

In the summer of 1948, Shirley Jackson wrote two short stories in quick succession: her controversial classic “The Lottery” and the underrated “The Summer People”. Even more astonishing is that she finishes the first in a morning of work. “This, as any story writer can tell you, is not a usual thing,” Jackson later recalled in Come with me (Viking Press, 1968). “In 2011, American author and publisher Kelly Link wrote in less than a week and published in Tin House Magazine his fantasy horror short story, “The Summer People”. The story, of course, doesn’t sound much like its 1948 namesake: Jackson’s tells the terrifying story of a couple who spent too much time staying in a summer cabin; Kelly recounts the adventure of her classmates Fran and Ophelia in the realm of titular “summer people”. Maybe the two aren’t too different. “I liked the idea of ​​writing a story where all the play between Jackson’s story and mine would come from the reader, rather than me,” Link said. Long readings when asked about the connection between the two stories. Fate willed that in July 2012, Link’s “The Summer People” won the Shirley Jackson Award for “Best Short Story”.

As for this reviewer, where was he when he discovered Link’s delightful 10,500-word story? I was almost a worse staff. This was in 2018, my third year in my undergraduate studies and my first since switching from a marketing major to English literature. The change was intended to facilitate my improvement as a writer, as all year long I had enrolled in higher level courses, from “17th Century Poetry and Prose” to “Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama” to “Southern Literature”. -Asiatic in English ”. But as I learned more and more about world literature, my writing, although more frequent, showed little or no signs of improvement – this, as any writer can attest, amounts to a regression.

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I didn’t know what I had done wrong. My grades were maintained and I had won the favors of a few teachers, whose advice I still seek today. It got to a point, towards the end of the year, where I had produced works that I looked at and shuddered, and worse yet, I had started to write less. I started to sleep more, I started to skip meals, to avoid friends. I was easily irritable; the slightest thing set me off – even though I didn’t say anything, or let out – I just brought it back with me to sleep. I myself had become an obstacle to my writing.

I tried my hand at reading. Despite being a writer and a literature graduate, my reading habits were spotty at best. I would finish a book, cherish it, and put it off for months, if not a year, at a time. And so, I tried short stories and collections. These were minor investments that I could put off and come back at any time. I looked, of course, at my favorite authors. I wiped the dust off the covers of books with the names of F Scott Fitzgerald, Stefan Zweig, Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, but each of these books I immediately rested. They failed to get anything in me, my greatest inspirations, when once they made me run to my pen and paper.

Next in my search for food was a book I had bought a year ago. A nice cover, a nice typeface and a quote from Neil Gaiman hailing its author as a “national treasure” (proofreading from Gaiman’s The sand man the comics fared slightly better than the heroes above, but not to a great extent). The book was Link’s To have troubles (Random House, 2016), and I thought I was reading one, maybe two stories.

The first one listed in the collection was “The Summer People”, and before I knew it I was flipping through the pages endlessly. I didn’t know any of his plot beats. I entered knowing little about the author and less about his stories, and I can only encourage readers to do the same. It takes place in the countryside of Robbinsville, there are trees upon trees, mosses gathering on the mountains, flowers climbing up and out, long thin roads, winding back and forth. We have the protagonist Fran and soon Ophélie. What happens in this dark, winding story is a slippery journey, with discovery, on the reader’s part, playing a big part. This modern fairy tale recalls the fables of yesteryear, from the Brothers Grimm to The fairy queen (1590), each point on the page approaching a small new world.

Link’s writing was new, ageless, and it felt like an endless mix of stories. At one point I had started to view stories, poems, literature, art as commodities to be consumed and, to some extent, to be reproduced. They had fixed boundaries, a beginning and an end, and it took the fantastic, personal stories of this author to remind me of just how special and special modern literature can be.

After I finished “The Summer People”, and soon the whole collection, I could only write. Somewhere somewhere had unlocked and I was only thinking of stories and ideas. I could now only manage a few hours of sleep – I spent more time in the blacks of my eyelids where I visualized and linked scenes and sets. The first story I completed was a 17,000 word short story, centered on the discovery by two women of a black hole deep in a forest. It took me about two months to complete, and somehow I didn’t realize I was riffing on the tradition of the eponymous summer vacationers from Link’s Tale. My story, however, was not particularly excellent, but the sudden rush I had received catapulted me enough to keep writing and writing – ultimately this much-desired progress.

When I first envisioned our feature film “Short Story of the Month”, it was the wonderful Kelly Link collection that I had in mind, and especially its wonderful climax. “The Summer People” speaks, in the simplest words – and in the author’s own words -: “a desire to escape”. For readers who yearn for this most human instinct, you won’t find a better outlet than in these 35 pages.

Kelly Link’s “The Summer People” can be found in the News Collection To have troubles (Random House, 2016) or on the WSJ website.

Mehrul Bari S Chowdhury is a writer, poet and artist. His work has appeared or is to appear in Blood orange examination, Kitaab, and Magazine Kinds, among others. He is currently an intern at Daily Star Books.