Story In a Story

‘A Confession of Anger’

Just landed in Iowa City for the Iowa City Book Festival. Sitting in Java House, which has to be one of my all-time favorite cafes, reading the galley of Anna Solomon’s new novel, “The Little Bride.” I’ll have more to say about this amazing novel later.

In the meantime, here is a story within the story. (See how it has a beginning, a middle, an end?) Anna’s lovely description from the point of view of an immigrant, after a long, arduous voyage across the Atlantic in steerage, sighting America:

Land looked at first like a storm. A piling on of clouds at the horizon, a confession of anger, which suddenly revealed itself to be solid. Trees, rocks, city.

Rock Me Like a Description of a Hurricane

As I read Lauren Groff’s story, “Above and Below,” in the New Yorker summer fiction issue last night, I found myself riveted by her description of an oncoming hurricane. The character watching the storm come in has recently become homelss. She’s living in her car:

A hurricane developed over the Caribbean but only its edges lashed the shore. Still, during the scream and blow, the camphor rattled its branches against the top of the car and the wagon shook so hard she was afraid the metal would twist and the glass would break. The retention pond overflowed and water licked up to the hubcaps. She lay as quietly as she could and listened and watched: she was a thin shell of glass and steel from the raw nerve at the center of herself. She felt the storm come closer, charging near; she waited with a painful breathless patience. But before it arrived she fell asleep.

That’s a short story, right there. A complete story within a story. Like a Chinese doll.

That sentence — she was a thin shell of glass and steel from the raw nerve at the center of herself — sets me on edge. I want to say: aren’t we all. Just this close to twisting and breaking apart.