The book is Here and Somewhere Else by Grace Paley and Robert Nichols. These are two amazing people and wonderful writers, who happen to be married to each other. I know them from the Under the Volcano workshop where Grace was my teacher in 2005 and a visitor and honored guest in 2007. Bob was with her both times. The pictures above are from a special evening held in honor of Grace at the ex-Convento in the village of Tepoztlan, Mexico, during which Grace read from her work and so did Bob and other distinguished writers. In fact, a couple of the poems and short stories in this collection were on the program that night and it is fabulous to hear the distinct voices of these kind souls when reading the words on the page. The introduction to the volume, by Marianne Hirsch, is also wonderful, as it briefly describes their careers and lives together, their favorite themes, the ways their styles are so different but their sensibilities are so similar.
Grace’s work is familiar to most writers, I think. One of the stories that stands out for me here is “Debts,” which Grace read on that wonderful evening in Mexico. It employs her characteristic bluntness:
“Now this is the main part of the story: The man Michael was not her father. Her father had died when she was little. Maria, with the other small children, had tried to live through the hard times in the best way. She moved in with different, nearly related families in the neighborhood and worked hard helping out in their houses. She worked well, and it happened that she was also known for the fine bread she baked. She would live in a good friend’s house for a while baking magnificent bread. But soon, the husband of the house would say, ‘Maria bakes wonderful bread. Why can’t you learn to bake bread like that?’ He would probably then seem to admire her in other ways. Wisely, the wife would ask Maria to please find another home.”Grace Paley is incomparable and even if you’ve read some of these stories before you should get the book.
Bob Nichols’s work is quite different and you probably have not read him before, so that’s another reason to get this book. One of the stories here is “Reading the Meter,” about a man who gets a bill from his electric company that includes this item: “8 people killed in the village of Jinoteca, Nicaragua/ Externalities $31.00”—and the rest of the story is the man trying to get to the bottom of this item.
This is a little gem of book, well worth reading