On a Little Bit of Weirdness in Stories

by sethsawyers

Every now and then a story comes in to Baltimore Review (where I’m an editor) containing an element of the supernatural and when I see one, my eyes widen a little. I don’t mean supernatural as in Mars or rocket-ships from 2114 or really any kind of full-on fantasy. What I mean is stories in which one thing is off but in which everything else—the earth and probably the force of gravity but mostly the human heart with its endless emptyings and endless desires to be filled up again—acts normally, as it does in all good stories. I’m thinking of much of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fiction or Haruki Murakami’s story “The Ice Man” or many of Steven Millhauser’s stories or, more personally, in Rachel Lyon’s “The Installation” (in our own Spring 2013 issue), a story I rooted for. Of course there are many others.

To all those fiction writers who want to do their own experimenting with stories where just one thing is odd, or supernatural, or somehow beyond what we think of as possible, I’d like to recommend Margot Livesey’s lovely, haunting Eva Moves the Furniture. I am, as I am in so many things, late to this 2001 novel, but I’m glad I found it.

It becomes apparent very early that our Eva sees two people who, to everyone else, are invisible. And once you swallow that, which Livesey makes easy, you’re off and running into the story of a girl’s first loves, her later loves, her triumphs, her tragedies. At no point does Livesey address the plausibility of these two, well, ghosts or whatever they are, but she doesn’t need to, of course. What Livesey does is much more difficult than explaining away the impossible or at the very least the implausible. What she does is bring a character fully to life, letting us feel her doubts, her loves, her contradictions, her failures, which is really what the best kinds of stories are about.

If anybody out there wants to write a story in which there’s a little of the supernatural, please do, and if you can do it while still writing a story that makes us feel something, send it our way. I’m rooting for you.