Forgetting English by Midge Raymond
Release date: 2009 / 116 pages
Synopsis (from front cover): Midge Raymond stretches the boundaries of place as she explores the indelible imprint of home upon the self and the ways in which new frontiers both defy and confirm who we are…
First line: “He lives in his mother’s house, with no electricity or hot water, yet somehow he always has a ready supply of condoms.”
Review: What a delight! If you enjoy short stories — or simply delicious character development — Forgetting English is a must read. The author contacted me in July about reviewing her collection, and I was interested since I love both the short story form and character development. My one reservation with short stories is that they often leave me wanting more — I hate investing in a character only to leave them after a few pages without resolution.
Well, somehow Raymond found a way to provide perfect closure for each of her stories. I was left with a satisying intimacy with each character, yet an understanding and peace about the future, as well. As with a novel that ends well, I was not left wanting more but instead thought, “Perfect!” at the end of each story — without exception.
The stories are not inter-related by the characters — but by a travel motif. Each character is travelling far from home for various reasons. I have a great familiarity with travel, having been to all 50 states at least once, a dozen or so countries, and having lived in England for a semester abroad. So, I was surprised that I had only been to three of the eight destinations — Africa, Hawaii, and San Francisco. The other settings include Tonga, Japan, Antarctica, Hana, and Taiwan.
Each place is vividly realized — through the experiences of the traveler. For anyone who has traveled extensively, the sense of timelessness, weightlessness, and rootlessness will be familiar and fascinating to experience second hand. I used to truly love to travel when I was younger — always ready to escape the “real world” and experience a new way of seeing the world. However, a few years ago my wanderlust left me — rather abruptly! I now crave the comforts of home and while I do not mind occasionally traveling, the sense of urgency I used to feel — the need to escape — has left me. However, reading these stories reminded me of just how exceptional the experience of travel can be.
In addition to Raymond’s lovely characterization and sense of place, her deft use of metaphor is intuitive and contributes to the sense of closure present in each story. Each metaphor cradles the characters and narratives and integrates themes that bring the reader a sense of value, even more than the characters. Since you all have yet to experience Forgetting English, I will not divulge the metaphors, but will share a few bits of Raymond’s prose:
She waits a few more minutes, then walks into the market alone, looking at the vendors, the goods, the shoppers. What had at one time seemed strange and jarring, even magical, has grown familiar: the hot white lights; the tones of the language; the pungent scent of foods once exotic, now commonplace.
I sit for a moment, completely still. Then I stand up and brush the sand off my legs. I follow the sound of his voice in the dark, lost in the surprising calm of an unrehearsed moment.
I look forward to passing this collection on to another lucky reader… Please let me know if you are interested by leaving me a comment!