I’d Like is not just a collection of stories, but a way telling them that is fresh and reinvigorates the form. Amanda Michalopoulou has constructed a reinforcing set of insights into story telling that is not consumed in the tediums of art about itself. The focus on reworking how stories are told does not hobble the stories, though, instead it adds an element of mystery and metaphysical shifting as if the epiphanies and narrative truths that so permeate the genre once reached are then undone as the story is revealed to be part of something different. The revelation shifts the meaning of the stories and ultimately the conclusions one can draw about the stories.
Michalopoulou, though, is writing neither theory nor dense esoteric investigations. Instead she uses a sparse prose that features fleating references to other stories or other characters. She seldom describes the environment her characters inhabit; description would distract from the multiplicity of voices and root them into conventional frames. She also uses first person only to make the stories float into each other. It is not always clear at first who is speaking. Is it a character in a story as it is in the eponymous I’d Like, or is it the character of the author who talks to her story—one surprisingly similar to I’d Like—in a restaurant and argues about whether it is full of clichés? It is an instant critique of what seemed like a good story of a marriage grown tiresome and an escape to New York. There is an air of disappointment in her thoughts
Ever since she was born I only read short stories. Novels are like murals would take a lifetime to finish one. And poetry makes my hormonal issues even worse. I sit there and cry because Hermes, who wanted to be a perfumer, suddenly dies at age twenty-seven, in a Syrian seaport. Or because the sy is a blue and gold mistake.
Short stories suit new mothers who love to read. They open the back door for you, let you peek in at reddish beards, chambermaids, women who turn into tables. You sign into an imaginary neck and it’s over.
Clearly, Michalopoulou is interested in story telling, yet there is a connection not only to the everyday experience of the reader, but the experience of the characters of her stories. The story is grounded in the actual, but still how the story is told is important.
I’d Like also uses reoccuring images to to work the conections between the stories into the reader’s mind. The connections are subtle and serve to add curiosity—didn’t that appear a couple stories ago—rather than function as clues to that weave a complete narrative together. A red barrette, for example, is stolen from the top of a corpse on a gurney. It is a impulsive act, but in most stories it would be just a stream of consciouses moment that doesn’t mean too much. Latter, though, the barrette appears as the trademark hat of a beloved sister. The sister though, is based on someone the writer knows. The barrette functions, then, as a narrative image for the stories that are written by the character of the author, the influence that links the character of the author’s reality with her stories, and a narrative image for the reader that links each of the different realties—the fiction and the meta fiction—to each other.
Thematically, Michalopoulou’s stories revolve around the lives of the character of the writer and two sisters and their family. The two sisters come and go through the stories at different ages and phases of life. The glimpses are brief and give just enough of the tensions that exist between siblings. The tensions, though, are not banal or insipid, but reveal the way siblings interact in simple every day ways. The writer’s theme is about writing, not so much about what makes good writing, but what it is from one’s own life that becomes writing. Michalopoulou, too, is interested in how the writing reflects back on to the writer. If a story effects the reader, can’t a story effect the writer. Again, it is the criss crossing of narrative realties that becomes one of the themes.
Michalopoulou can be a funny writer and Light is the best and funniest story in the collection. One of the sisters loses her sister in a car crash and the day she learns about the accident two Mormons come to her door. Feeling lonely, she invites them in and they talk. She doesn’t know anything about mormonism, but she keeps having the Mormons back to her home to talk and pray even though she doesn’t really care that much. At the end of the story her sister returns in a dream. She ask sher sister
“Did Moroni send you?”
“No, your gulability did.”
The levity underscores the tension between the sisters, whose separation has been much trouble for the survivor. The balance between the humor and the sadness is perfectly balanced and quite funny. It is part of the playfulness of the stories that make them so good.
I’d Like is a great collection of stories that blends genres and styles to create a unique collection of stories that moves short story writing past the problem becomes realization formula.