It’s a warm October afternoon, and 11 of us are in an airy classroom on the third floor of a university high-rise, talking about a draft of a short story. The writer, a 30-something journalist with a New York accent, quietly takes notes. The prose is strong, we say, the premise promising: a newly discharged soldier taking up with the sister of his best buddy from the army, who was killed in action only months earlier. But the friend’s ghost metaphorically hovers, and the soldier’s motives for the relationship with the young woman are complicated, intriguing, murky. Too murky, we tell the author. If you can figure out what’s driving your character, we say, you’ll have a terrific piece of fiction. The writer, satisfied, puts down his pen, and we all troop downstairs for coffee before returning for the second hour: a close look at a couple of gems by Canadian writer David Bezmozgis and that grand dame of fictional voice, Grace Paley, to see how they did it.
When is an in-law not just an in-law? Henny Youngman jokes aside, there are times when a mother-in-law or father-in-law takes on the role of guide, mentor, comforter, surrogate parent. It’s a role not exclusive to in-laws, of course. Haven’t we all had times when a teacher or a youth leader or a friend’s mother stepped forth and filled those