My first encounter with the work of Grace Dane Mazur came when I received her e-mail asking me if I would be interested in reading her book Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imaginations. In reading the book I found it to be about a number of things but to me and my blog chief among them was an account of what happens to us when we fall under the spell of a great literary work. I was so happy when I saw one of the writers she really admired was Katherine Mansfield. She introduced me to some concepts I will use from now on in trying to understand some of the more mysterious aspects of the reading life. (My post on this book is here.)
Silk is a collection of eleven short stories by Mazur. Several of the stories are about the sexual development of a woman we first meet at age ten, Cass. The stories about Cass are very bold and have the power to shock. She first gets a sense of the notion of sexuality when she watches her aunt, who is enough younger than her mother so she does not see her maternally, enjoying an erotic stimulation from bathing nude from the waist down in a fast flowing stream. I think Mazur shows incredible narrative skill and subtly with this theme as just as ten year old Cass is confused initially by what her aunt is doing, the reader of the story is also confused as to what is happening and what is going on in the mind of Cass. In a very shocking story, we see the long term incestuous relationship of the now young adult Cass and her older brother. This is a very daring story that Mazur powerfully develops and once we understand how it happens we are on the edge of accepting, even though we know we cannot.
Another reason I liked these stories is that the people in them are into interesting things and talk about them in a way that seems real. I was simply fascinated in one of the stories when an older woman who was an expert on French cave art speculated about what the music of the painters of the famous cave images might have been like. Her account of the recreation of this music was fascinating and made perfect sense.
The stories are also set in interesting places from the art quarters of Paris, to Cambridge, Ma, to Singapore. I really enjoyed it when one of the characters buys a durian at a Vietnamese market for her boyfriend. Durians smell so bad that airlines in Thailand, where they are common, will not let people on the plane carrying them. They are also so heavy, imagine a bowling ball with protruding spikes, that every year several people sitting under a durian tree (OK not a bright place to take a nap) are killed when a falling fruit hits their head. I have had several times Durian meringue pie and I really like it but it might not be for everyone.
The people in the stories also have interesting professions they are passionate about, not just jobs. Some of the characters work are curators in museums and some do research work on silkworms, something the author did herself for years. The title story, "Silk" centers on the life of a woman who has dedicated her working life to the study of silk worm eggs. I learned a lot about silk worms from this story and one other one also.
Silk is a wonderfully collection of short stories about interesting engaged by life people, sometimes hurt and pushed into partially destructive behavior by loneliness. It also about competition of women for men.
The prose in these stories is exquisite. There is a lot to be learned from these stories but that is an incidental pleasure. At places I gasped at the beauty of the stories.
Mazur has an extremely interesting and impressive background. She has a PhD in Biology from Harvard. For ten years she was the fiction editor of the Harvard Review.
There is a lot more information on Mazur on her web page.