First drinks, rusty construction nails and tuberculosis — perhaps not the stuff of your growing-up years, but they were the details of this Sunday’s short story reading of coming-of-age tales at Seattle’s Town Hall downtown.
The event, sponsored by City Arts as part of their Arts & Culture Short Stories Live series, drew a crowd of literary enthusiasts in what has become a popular tradition of short fiction read aloud. The afternoon was dubbed “My Friends and I” and focused on the firsts, twists and turns in the lives of young people.
The first story read was Alice Munro’s “An Ounce of Cure,” which tells of a 15-year-old Canadian girl’s first encounter with alcohol while on the job babysitting. Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, writes with a wry and sardonic voice as she chronicles first love and disappointment, the golden allure of whiskey bottles, and the rumors which reek long after the fateful night.
Stories read aloud are an innovative break from the page — think the lull of a book-on-tape without the tape — and readers perform with a refreshing and vivacious accuracy.
The second selection was from local Seattle author Matthew Simmons. Titled “daredevil,” it chronicles with an increasing fervency the plans of a young boy to vindicate the bullying of his younger brother by driving a four-inch nail through the bully’s hand. The narrator’s reliability is dubious as he condemns his nemesis’s behavior but is complacent about similar acts by his brother and father and exultant about the police car in his driveway.
Following a short intermission, the afternoon concluded with Jean Stafford’s “The Healthiest Girl In Town,” a sedate and more loquacious story about a young girl growing up in the tuberculosis colony of Boulder, Colo., before World War II. More and more frustrated with the self-righteous hypochondria of her peers, she concocts a story about her father’s demise due to leprosy and wins some respect, and distance, from her high-brow friends.
The stories, each lasting about half an hour in length, probed the foibles and frolics of the coming-of-age experience in different times and locations and at different ages. The chuckles, gasps and tense shoulders of an expressive audience were an affirmation that art, convincingly and enjoyably, imitates life.
Short Stories Live, which features texts as varied as Willa Cather’s letters and Christmas poetry, is presented by ACT Theatre at Town Hall three to five times a year.