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Book Introduction: She Receives the Night

I have another book introduction for you this week! This week's guest post is from Robert Earle, introducing us to his short story collection, She Receives the Night.

She Receives the Night

by Robert Earle

Cover for She Receives the Night. A stylized picture of a woman's face. 

I wrote the first of the twenty-two stories that appear in my new collection, She Receives the Night, twenty years ago, in 1997. That story, “Birth,” came to me as I was reflecting on a story a friend told me.  The scenario was simple, a little sad, a little funny. Husband and wife went on a vacation the husband didn’t want to take and the car broke down, making him happy to go home and her angry, losing time away from home.

This became a lyrical meditation on the entire marriage breaking down, not just the car, and the wife emerging as a new person, freed of burdens she had not realized were just too heavy and confining.

The fact that I wrote “Birth” from the wife’s perspective was no departure for me. I have written stories from both male and female perspectives since I started writing stories when I was fifteen, many years ago. For me gender is an avenue toward a truth, something important, something that awakens me as a writer and hopefully awakens the reader.

I kept writing and publishing stories about women, and one day it occurred to me to compile them to see what a collection would look like; that is the basic explanation of how She Receives the Night came into being.  There are stories here about a female US president, a North Korean refugee, an abused female lawyer in New Mexico, a happy female forester in Oregon, and a female social worker in Melbourne, Australia.

All these women, it turns out, face a similar problem: they are asked to bear more than their fair share of the darkness in human experience. That theme resonates with me. I saw my mother live such a life. When I was a diplomat, I saw women in many different parts of the world living that life.  I really have never had any problem considering myself a feminist, but stories are not speeches or preaching, stories require characters who matter, situations full of interest, and outcomes that fulfill whatever promises they have made in the first few paragraphs.

The best stories, for me, are brimming with a mixture of aesthetic and moral insight. You can’t have good literature without both. The art lies in getting the mixture right.

The beauty of the story form is that it is possible to really get something right; it’s so compressed, in fact, that every word and sentence has to be right. Someone once said that a novel is a long story with something wrong with it. A short story is a story with nothing wrong with it. In the end, it works or it doesn’t. That puts a lot on the line, and women are good subjects for short stories because no one has more on the line, day in and day out, than women.

She Receives the Night will be out on May 26. You can preorder it from the publisher or Amazon.

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