There are over 7 billion people on the planet right now and every single one of them is the protagonist of their own story. That’s the premise of Marjorie Maddox’s new short story collection, titled “What She Was Saying.” Each of the 35 stories peers into the fractured lives of the people we pass every day. Some narratives drip nostalgia, others are sharp and bitter. But all of them are meant to reveal the experiences that make us unique.
“What She Was Saying” is a love letter to the women who are scraping by. These women are your neighbors and friends. They are the women you see at your child’s baseball games or walking into the local psychiatrist’s office. Their strong narrative voices and characters remind the reader how rare realistic portrayals of women can be. Maddox uses intense sensory imagery and vivid descriptions to immerse the reader in the relatable and unvarnished world of each character.
Some of the stories appear as brief snapshots. Vignettes less than a page allow us to dip our toes into a character and then quickly pull back. Other stories in the collection extend for several pages. These give us the chance to delve into the struggles these characters face: like childlessness, mental illness, and self-esteem issues.
Maddox approaches these topics realistically, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Several of the stories in the book are taken straight from newspaper headlines. “Mom Learns of a Son’s Death Via Voice Mail” imagines the story behind the real 2003 headline. Although it can be hard to tell where the truth stops and the fiction begins, it’s clear Maddox takes her inspiration from the world around her.
Even the stories that seem simple at first reveal hidden layers of meaning and color upon further inspection. In the story “Weeds,” dandelions start out as a sweet childhood memory. By the end of the story, they have become far more sinister. In “Eiffel Tower,” Paris’s most famous landmark has become a trigger for jealousy and anger.
One challenge with an anthology of short stories is to create a logical thematic flow through a wide range of topics. Maddox weaves her stories together by picking up on common threads and tying them together. Often she’ll pair similar stories into couplets, before moving on to a different thematic element. The strategy seems appropriate for a woman with a few poetry books under her belt.
“What She was Saying” is an evocative collection of stories observed through an uncompromising, realistic lens. Hope, religion, and despair echo throughout the pages. It’s a rainy-day, hot-cup-of-tea-in-hand kind of book. It’s the type of book that demands empathy and requests bravery. By the final story, you begin to wonder if the ‘she’ in “What She Was Saying” is Maddox herself, blurring the lines between fact and fiction once more.
“What She Was Saying” by Marjorie Maddox is published by Fomite Press. Maddox has published eleven collections of poetry, including her most recent release “Wives’ Tales.”
Meghan Shiels just finished her sophomore year at Penn State. She wrote this while she was an intern at WPSU.