In Midge Raymond’s short stories, women seek geographic and emotional isolation| From Alumni Books | By Natalie Jacobson McCracken
Midge Raymond says her characters do their best to avoid finding themselves. Photo by John Yunker
“Forget English,” the Chinese tutor advises Paige in the title story of Midge Raymond’s short story collection. Newly arrived in Taipei, Paige and many of the other thirty-something women at the center of these melancholy stories have chosen the isolation of living in a culture and with a language very different from their own; Paige, in fact, wants to learn only enough Chinese to read numbers, addresses, and menus. For her, says Raymond (COM’95), there is safety in being unable to communicate. The collection, Forgetting English, won the 2007 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and was published recently by Eastern Washington University Press.
Raymond worked at Boston University from 1998 to 2004 as a College of Communication lecturer in writing and a writer and editor for University publications, including Bostonia. She spoke with the magazine about her first book.
Bostonia: So many of your central characters are isolated emotionally. Is isolation basic to the human condition?
Raymond: I hadn’t really thought about that, but part of me feels that it’s why I’ve gravitated toward that in my writing. One challenge for a lot of people is to get to know themselves very deeply, in a world in which you work very hard and you’ve got a million things going on. All these characters ended up being far away from their everyday lives.
Were these stories written for this book?
No, it just so happened that I started getting a few stories that were thematically very similar. Many characters have gone off some place because they like it that way, comfortably isolated.
Like the character who is glad she and her lover basically don’t understand each other’s language.
She feels a sort of safety in that, a comfort in being unable to communicate.
It’s interesting that sex here often has nothing to do with romance, or with lust, but just with somebody to hold onto.
In a lot of ways it’s a blind reaching out, definitely not out of love or great passion in most cases, but need and loneliness.
Forgetting English by Midge Raymond
Is there an advantage to love not being part of it?
These characters struggle so emotionally, poor things, to avoid finding themselves while they’re being forced to do it. Sometimes, it’s easier to make those connections without love or romance.
The men, for the most part, aren’t very nice.
I’m not sure how that happened for me, emotionally, because I certainly have a wonderful collection of men in my life. But I think it turned out that way because I wanted to focus more on the women and their struggles.
Some of these women are pleased that there’s no real long-lasting tie to the men they’re involved with.
Exactly. If you don’t ever get deeply involved, you can keep whatever illusions about yourself and your life that you want. I think it’s only when you become truly intimate with someone else that you have to let them in and let them see who you are. These characters for the most part aren’t ready or willing for that to happen.
Will they be happier when they are?
That was my idea with these stories. They’re taking that step toward that, and even though we don’t get to see it, we get to hope that they do end up in that place.
Are you thinking about a novel?
I actually have written a novel. It’s with my agent. However, last fall, when lots of people were getting fired, it was a hard time to sell. I have an idea for another one, so I’m just going to have to get started on it.
I’ve had a harder time getting into novels than I’ve ever had getting into a story, and I think it’s because when I sit down to write a story, I know where it’s going and I know where the ending is. It’s just a question of getting there, and I can get there within a few months, if not weeks.
But with a novel, you just think, when will this end, when will I ever finish it?