Jennifer Colville read from her short story “Other Mothers” from her collection Elegies for Uncanny Girls on September 26th at 4:30 in Perrine Gallery. Her reading lasted about 20 minutes with a short Q & A afterward. Her story took place in San Francisco from the perspective of a new mother in a coffee shop. Her use of language was beautiful, using phrases like “flowerbeds dripping with fuschia” among other vivid, unexpected choices. Though much of the action was stagnant, taking place within maybe 10 minutes, she was able to explore the terrors of motherhood, including the fragile safety of her baby and the repelling of befriending other mothers in San Francisco. Her thoughts were obsessive, flashing back to the delivery room when her baby was nearly suffocated in birth, and zooming back into the present in which she constantly checks to make sure her 6 month old is still breathing.
When the main character finally strikes up a conversation with anyone besides the local baristas, she is surprised to find out that the unfamiliar woman is also a mother. One line that stood out was “She looked at me kindly, in a way that made me want to check my blouse for stains”. Colville’s strength in both understanding the everyday mundane, and using refreshing observations held me captive. The protagonist’s anxiety over her baby was intense, at one point imagining her baby dangling from a high building, saying, “San Francisco had shrunk to the size of a plank”.
When asked what had inspired her to write this story, she discussed how she used her own life experience as a new mother, fresh out of grad school. She noted that even when writing directly from experience, what she writes always becomes fictionalized.
by Katie Rejsek