Nicholas Ruddok’s new book made me want to go back and read Mistry’s Tales From Firozsha Baag, Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. How Loveta Got Her Baby is in good company with these classics.
These books are all—for lack of a better, or maybe pre-existing term—“community collections.” “Connected stories”—short stories with shared characters and through-lines—doesn’t quite do justice to the way Ruddock’s and the abovementioned doozies tell a larger, social narrative with the use of smaller, personal stories. All of these books are about the uniqueness of place as much as the uniqueness of people, and how a place all at once defines and is defined by those who live their lives there.
A collection of East Coast towns is the setting of How Loveta Got Her Baby, combing to make a community full of schemers and strugglers and bumblers—which may bring to mind Cannery Row’s Mack and the boys—but also warm, supportive, and content folk. All taking place in the same area, these stories and characters—whether up to monkeyshine or ignominy—are limned with a very special intimacy and understanding unique to tight communities. Having ancillary characters in earlier stories become the focus of a later story, they can’t help but become rounder, richer, and real in a way that can be so tricky to achieve in fiction.
Not beholden to a novel’s grander narrative arc, community collections, when they’re well done—as How Loveta Got Her Baby most certainly is—tell a story about life that comes closest to representing the real deal. Told mostly in the third person, there are a slim few uses of a first person narrator of these incidents, suggesting—stay with me—that The Community is witnessing these lives as they unfold. It’s The Community As Narrator that gathers these lives together into some coherent, meaningful story about what it means to be alive in that time and place.
You don’t see community collections as much as you used to. This has nothing to do with antiquation, I don’t think. Loveta is a happy sign of the genre’s health, and this April will see the release of a collection by first time author Anna Leventhal, Sweet Affliction, full of stories set in an alternate, futuristic Montreal that similarly bodes well. Maybe the dearth of real life communities has hobbled the genre. We rarely stay long enough in a place to contribute to the story and meaning of it. The wealth of life and experience that accrues through How Loveta Got Her Baby will surely make you either appreciate the community you’re a member of or make you wistful for your lack of one.
Join us in the eBar for the launch of How Loveta Got Her Baby Thursday March 20 at 7:30pm. The evening will feature DJ Guelph and Jessy Bell Smith.