- Other Stories and Other Stories by Ali Smith
Granta, 177 pp, £9.99, March 1999, ISBN 1 86207 186 1
‘There was once a story that was told by way of other stories,’ the narrator tells a lover in ‘A story of love’, the final piece in Ali Smith’s second collection: ‘The end.’ This narrowly beats the previous shortest short story: ‘The last man on earth sat in a room. There came a knock at the door.’ In most of Smith’s stories one event sets off a glancing chain of associations that lead to a new perspective on a universal fact and a sea-change for the narrator. In ‘A story of folding and unfolding’, from her award-winning first collection, Free Love (1995), a widower wonders what to do with his wife’s hoard of underwear: Smith’s touch here is light enough to make the transition from virginal white to wifely pastel to elderly elasticated chart a life. In ‘Text for the day’, a woman alienated from her life tears her books to pieces one by one; and in so doing gives them meaning again, as strangers catch at the fragments and pore over the mystery of their incompleteness. The title-story of Free Love evokes the delight of first love-making, when life is ‘filled with possibility’; ‘A quick one’ catches the moment when a finished love affair, with all its messinesses, is finally resolved.