Romance, or, After William Maxwell


have been writing a few little stories that begin, “Once upon a time,” or, “There was once a man who.” I suppose you could call these pieces of flash fiction. I’ve been thinking about William Maxwell and his series of little stories he wrote, what he calls his improvisations.

In the preface to his collected short stories, All the Days and Nights, Maxwell writes about this about the improvisations:

The stories I have called “improvisations” really are that. They were written for an occasion – for a birthday or to be rolled up inside a red ribbon and inserted among the ornaments on the Christmas tree. I wrote them to please my wife, over a great many years. When we were first married, after we had gone to bed I would tell her a story in the dark. They came from I had no idea where. Sometimes I fell asleep in the middle of a story and she would shake me and say “What happened next?” and I would struggle up through layers of oblivion and tell her.

In researching his life and work, I found Maxwell’s relationship with his wife incredibly romantic. This reminded me of Joan Didion’s memoir of the period of life after her husband died, Year of Magical Thinking, where the loss of her husband had her thinking wildly irrational thoughts about him coming back. The book had me wondering if their relationship seemed perfect only in retrospect and from the perspective of the remaining half? Rehearsing Twelfth Night now, I am reminded of the myth that we are one half of a being split in two, and we’re roaming the world to find the other.

My stage adaptation of Maxwell’s short story, The Blue Finch of Arabia, depicts many pairs, romantic and otherwise. The lovely Charles Adrian Gillott told me about pair bonding in the animal kingdom after reading it. According to Wikipedia, a pair bond in biology is “the strong affinity that develops in some species between a pair consisting of a male and female, or in some cases as a same-sex pairing, potentially leading to producing offspring and/or a lifelong bond.”

In mulling things over and reworking the draft, this is one of the concepts I really wanted to land. In a story about journeys, real and metaphorical, do we need a companion and if so, what shape does that companion take, how do we find them, do we have one or do we move through many?

If you would like to read a copy of my piece, get in touch on vera chok at g mail dot com.

(c) Vera Chok 2014


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