How do you feel about short stories? Are they a regular part of your reading or do you find that after you read them you feel like the story is incomplete?
I remember thinking when I tried short stories in the past they felt unfinished since I had become accustomed to reading a complete book. But there has been one author who had consistently made me feel right at home, like my grandmother or wise older auntie has sat me down and left me with a few lessons on life. Because her age and life experience exceed my own and she can tell a story like no one else, I pull up a chair, grab a pot of tea (well maybe a pitcher of sweet tea for her) and I hunker down for what I know will be another treasured and cherished moment in our relationship.
That, in a nutshell, is how I feel after reading J. California Cooper. Everytime. Although it’s been several years since I’ve read one of her novels or collections of stories, it’s like we haven’t missed a beat. We are picking up where we left off and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how I can review those feelings. It just doesn’t seem possible.
Perhaps one of the reasons I gravitate to her writing is because it feels natural and real. Cooper doesn’t sugarcoat life. All of us have lived and experienced a variety of things in life, but learning from each other adds flavor and gives dimension to our own lives. Maybe we see friends or family, even some of ourselves in the stories. Maybe we see the selfish and vain ways of those of others, we shake our head and wonder how do they turn into that person? Or do we see a bit of ourselves in some of the people we meet in these stories, can we empathize with some of them? Do we not long for them to have some happiness in their lives too?
In the 8 stories contained in The Matter is Life, Cooper makes you laugh. I couldn’t help think of my own grandmothers, great-grandmother, now deceased, who made me laugh for so many years and could boss me around just like her daughter, my wisened grandmother loving does today. In the first story, The Big Day, I thought about how this cherished older woman is loved by many. A respected matriarch one who, “ain’t ready” for whatever it is they are going to be doing that day or for the day that awaits all of us should we live long enough.
“I smiled to myself, cause I am loved, chile.”
In the next story, How, Why to Get Rich, you can’t help but admire the industrious and ambitious fortitude of a young girl with her cousins. As the brains of the bunch, she’s figured out how they can get rich if they just work together, it’s easy enough right? How I remember thinking life was so simple at that age, you work and make money and it’s so easy because you can do whatever you want or buy whatever you want? Nope, not at all what we think until we experience a taste of real living.
“Yes…I’m doing a lot of thinking. On how to get rich. Even just how to make a real good livin for my life! Cause I already know why.”
In Evergreen Grass, let’s just say, you should find contentment in your own yard. Make your own grass green because on that grass on the other side of the fence, well, it’s not the kind your looking for, if you have good sense.
The next 3 stories Vanity, I Told Him!, and No Lie, are heavier, weightier, as life can be. Themes of selfish pleasure desires, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse are present in these. But one thing I couldn’t forget was the incredible and crushing weight of loneliness. Yes, The Matter is Life.
Finally, The Doras. This story of Dora from a young age into her old age is one of hardship, loss, struggles, dreams and love. It was very satisfying to finish this collection with the Doras.
Overall, I didn’t think I had much to say about a collection of short stories, but the feelings and emotions and the words, they just tumbled out. Reading JCC always makes me think of my dear friend who introduced me to this author many years ago. She was my best friend, more like a sister. It’s been 12 years since she fell asleep in death and every time I read Cooper, I remember how much I miss her. How I’d love to talk to her about this author that holds a special place in my heart, thanks to her.
So tell me, are you a fan of short stories? Are you familiar with any of J. California Cooper’s works?