For those of you not paying attention, we are shining the spotlight on Michelle Herman this week. (And by "this week," I mean "an indiscriminate period of time".) Thursday we tackled her first novel Missing, today we move on to her next book, A New and Glorious Life, which is a collection of three novellas that inaugurated Carnegie Mellon's short fiction series.
The first novella in the collection, Auslander, was first published in Twenty Under Thirty: Best Stories by America's New Young Writers. The story centers on a translator living in New York who is asked to translate some Romanian poetry. The catch: she is asked to do so by a stranger who found her number in the phone book, and the poetry is his wife's, and she doesn't want her work translated. For a variety of reasons—pity, curiosity, the faint hope of a discovery—she agrees to meet with this gentleman; and subsequently agrees to read the poems but not to translate them without the author's permission. Slowly but surely, Auslander finds herself caught up in an awkward triangle between the wife, and brilliant poet, who refuses to have her work translated, and the husband whose inability to let the issue go seems to be threatening the marriage.
What I found interesting about this novella was the way Herman weaves in the story with Auslander's life. This, in my opinion, is Herman's most appealing talent. She is a sort of literary portraitist; she skillfully sketches the history and mental furniture of her characters to the point where you feel like you know who they are; you feel like you would recognize them if you fell into a conversation with them. At the same time she is able to create tension within her stories despite the lack of a complex or detailed plot. There is very little action in Auslander and yet it has tension and suspense.
The next novella is the title piece. A New and Glorious Life tells the story of Demitrious Gadol, known to his friends as Gad, a mid-evel composer in residence at an artist's colony. Gad has taken up residence at the colony, in part to get away from his wife. Gad is a serial philanderer who has recently given up his roaming ways in an attempt to save his marriage, or at least make peace with his difficult wife. He finds that, although he has been very productive artistically, he doesn't fit in at the colony. He awaits the rumored newcomer to the colony with the anticipation that he might yet make a connection with someone.