"The First Person" (15 pages, 2008)
"True short story
and "The Universal Story". I totally loved these stories, especially the first one that deals with the nature of the short story, and said I wanted to read more of her work. This morning I read two delightful stories, both dealing in very different ways about how challenging it can be for adults to communicate with children. One of them, "The First Person" brilliantly depicts a 44 year old woman having an actual conversation with her 14 year old self. The second is a very surreal story about a woman who leaves her shopping cart in the market to go to another aisle and returns to find a one year old baby in her cart.
"The Child" is a very strange quite surreal story. A single woman in her early twenties is shopping in a supermarket. She leaves her cart just to go get some milk and when she returns there is a one year old baby in the toddler seat in the cart. At first she figures someone just put the baby in the wrong cart and if she waits a second a panicked mother will retrieve the child, who she thinks is a boy. But no one does, so she goes to the store office to see if anyone has reported a missing child and no one has. The store announces over the loud speaker that there is a lost baby in the office but no one claims him. The woman does not know what to do. Then she thinks OK I will take the baby to the police station and they will know what to do with him. The she gets confused over what to do as she does not want to be accused of being a baby snatcher. Now things get much weirder when she hears a voice from the back of the car, where she had put the baby. "You're really a rubbish driver, a voice said from the back of the car. I could do better than that, and I can't even drive". It was the baby speaking. The baby spoke complicated words with an innocence that "sounded ancient, centuries old, and at the same time as if it had only just discovered their meaning and was out their usage and I was privileged to be present when it did.". I hope you will be able to read this really good story so I will leave the ending untold. I think one could talk for a long time about this story without exhausting it.
"The First Person" is a story for anyone who has ever wished they could somehow go back in time and give their teenage self some advise. In this totally fun really well done story that is exactly what happens. The story captures perfectly well the difficulty of communicating with teenagers, in this case a girl, and the very real longing of the woman in the story to have known at 14 the things she knows now.
Both of these stories are from the collection The First Person and other Stories.
Ali Smith (born 1962 in Inverness) is a British writer. She was born to working-class parents, raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at the University of Aberdeen and then at Newnham College, Cambridge, for a PhD that was never finished. She worked as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde until she fell ill with CFS/ME. Following this she became a full-time writer and now writes for The Guardian, The Scotsman, and the Times Literary Supplement. Openly gay, she lives in Cambridge with her partner Sarah Wood. In 2007 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Ali Smith knows a lot about the short story, more than just how to write a good one. I have on pre-order Artful a series of four lectures Smith gave at Oxford on art and literature.