Book Review: Susan Minot Returns To Short Fiction With 'Why I Don't Write'

Aug 3, 2020

It’s been three decades since author-playwright Susan Minot has published a collection of short fiction. So perhaps it’s fitting that her new one, which is being released this week, is titled “Why I Don’t Write: And Other Stories.”

The 10-story collection returns to several themes common in Minot’s work, including grief, death, and the difficult geography of human relations. Minot’s writing gleams with realistic descriptions, both of physical settings and the interior workings of her characters’ minds. In the title story, one of the collection’s strongest, someone asks the narrator, “What do you do all day?” And she -- we might assume it’s Minot, though she’s written six books since 1986 -- catalogs the myriad reasons and random moments that derail artists:

“Headache. Hunger. The thumping far below the floor. . . . Cleaning out the closets. Cleaning out the drawers. Clearing out the basement.”

This story collection, like many, is a mixed bag. In “Polepole,” an American journalist regrets her one-night stand with a married man stationed in Kenya. In “Occupied,” a woman walks through a protest encampment in lower Manhattan and reflects upon the attacks on 9/11 and a breakup with her elusive lover. In “Green Glass,” a couple bickers during and after the wedding of a friend. In “The Language of Cats and Dogs,” a woman remembers a professor’s sexual advances. And in my personal favorite, a four-page jewel of flash fiction titled “The Torch,” a woman on her death bed calls out for a man other than her husband.

This collection demonstrates Minot’s skill at telling women’s stories, in particular, and showing with vivid clarity how we all crave meaning and connection.