A master of metafictional writing reminiscent of the French nouveau roman writers of the ’50s and in particular Marguerite Duras, Greece’s Amanda Michalopoulou invites us to view the world of one story presented through a prismatic lens of all its characters in I’d Like, a collection of thirteen gritty and poignant short stories.
I’d like . . . to know why there isn’t more of Amanda Michalopoulou’s work translated into English. Having just finished this collection, I am left with an unsated craving. The kind of craving that has a hope of being satisfied in the near future, but until then, I must content with “A Slight, Controlled Unease.” This is the title of the second short story in Michalopoulou’s collection, which focuses on a writer struggling with herself to write a short story:
The sun disappearing behind the clouds, the outdoor space heaters, the first drops of rain falling on the awning—they all heighten the impression that everything is happening both inside and out. In my heart and in the street. Why else would it start to rain just when I can no longer hold everything in? These parallels make me feel a slight, controlled unease.
And that’s what Michalopoulou accomplishes—showing us things, people and situations inside and out. In this story we see a writer lamenting her own ability as she reacts to passages she has just written. The next story, “Pointe,” begins with a passage the main character wrote in the second story and delivers to us the finished short story. This may seem confusing at first, rendering a sense of literary vertigo, but the nuance and precision of voice and character make the reader feel acclimated immediately. One story metamorphosizes into the next and it’s up to the reader to figure out how. Frankly, I like this kind of challenge. Micahlopoulou doesn’t underestimate the reader. Instead, she expects us to participate as a reader and make us aware of the relationship between writer and reader. As a reader, I always felt Michalopoulou was in control and totally aware of my presence, even winking at me in “Dad and Childhood” where the main character remembers going to a child psychologist who encourages her to read:
I like short stories best. They’re written on a more human scale. Novels seem like desperate attempts at control, and poems like attempts at grandeur. Essays I can write myself, if necessary.
Part of the allure of I’d Like is Michalopoulou’s ability to shift a character from a self-reflective nostalgia to the grittiness of the present. These characters have nowhere to hide whether in one story they are a lover and the next they are a sister and the next they are a mother. In the title story, “I’d Like,” the wife of a writer yearns to have the inspiration as a painter she once had:
Do you remember how insatiably I used to paint? I devoured the paper, chewed on my brushes. My feet never hurt in museums—I forgot they even existed. I could live for days on a single croissant; I believed that time and despair would never touch me. Can you tell me why art drives a person crazy when it promises so much? We should have known that things would end up here. In a room in the same hotel, twenty years later. The same rococo table, the blue checked bedspreads and the basket of apples from the management, with peels so many different shades of red they look painted? Why do people assume that art corrects the failings of life?
There is also the hypnotic repetition of objects, characters, places and phrases woven beautifully and poetically throughout the collection. The repetition of phrases in particular reminded me of a crown of sonnets where the last line of the sonnet becomes the first line of the next. Michalopoulou doesn’t adhere as strictly as that to any form, but the repetition gives this collection of short stories an interconnected yet amorphous feel as if all the characters are floating in the same pool skimming each other as they drift. The wife in the title story becomes the subject of discussion between two sisters, Stella and Christina, in “I’d Like (Orchestral Version).” Stella becomes the writer of “I’d Like” and the two women are the daughters of the wife in that story:
“You think I am an idiot? The wife who’s an awful painter is Mom. And the husband who walks like an elephant is Dad. Instead of him being in advertising, you made him a failed writer”
“What do you mean?”
“A childless middle-aged couple. If they hadn’t had us, they’d be dragging themselves along together just like that. Isn’t that what you were implying, Stella?”
There are many implications throughout I’d Like, but the reader should be forewarned to not take them seriously. Just when I thought I knew how the stories connected, I was proven wrong by the next one. Karen Emmerich’s translation superbly resonates with Michalopoulou’s intentions. Emmerich has won several awards for her translations and this should add to her list. I can only hope that she will be able to translate the innovative and lofty works of Amanda Michalopoulou in the future. Not only is the work itself deserving, but also we are deserving of reading such quality postmodern literature.