Stories can be found everywhere…in the people we pass on the streets, in places, times, in our friends and family, in the words we write and in the books we read. Ali Smith, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful short story writers today, precisely because of her ability to find stories in any situation, and experiment with them freely. In reading Smith, I am taken back to that childish excitement and wonder I experienced when hearing a story, and I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen next. Smith not only tells stories full of that same kind of mystery and possibility, but writes in a style that is raw, radical, and rebellious, whilst also being witty, modern and very relevant.
A Scottish writer, hailing from Inverness, and currently living in Cambridge, Smith has written several collections of short stories as well as novels. I am drawn again and again, however, to her collection The First Person and other stories. These can be read quickly or mulled over repeatedly. Smith refuses to bow down to literary conventions, instead writing dialogue without speech marks, sentences that flow and stop as she chooses, and side-track yarns that blend together beautifully at her conclusions. These stories can be appreciated by almost anyone, regardless of what you usually read; the language is not authoritative or exclusive but rather welcoming and real, but full of depth.
One particular story, ‘The Child’ tells the witty, dark tale of a woman who mysteriously finds a beautiful boy sitting in her shopping trolley in Waitrose. Persuaded by the other shoppers that this child is indeed hers, she reluctantly takes him out to her car, only to be both amused and simultaneously repulsed by his lurid language, and racist and sexist jokes, all spoken in an RP accent. I am always driven back to this story that carries with it many different questions about our political views in this country, as well as how our perspectives and images are shaped by ourselves as well as others. The beauty of Smith’s stories is that so many different conclusions can be taken from her tales. It is the possibilities offered in her writing, mirroring the possibilities in their meanings that is really exciting.
It is also the realism of Smith’s stories that make them fantastic reads. In her story ‘the second person’, Smith both plays with narrative (writing in the second person), whilst simultaneously creating a witty, and profound reflection of a couple’s interaction. As the two figures create imaginary stories about each other, compliments easily turn to insults, and messages blur as they are interpreted. The tension and simultaneous affection between the two characters feel so real that they almost don’t belong on a page. It is Smith’s skillful writing style, often compared to the techniques of the literary avant-garde, that the lack of coherency in the way we communicate is placed before us and seen for what it is.
If you are looking for a laugh, a good tale, straight talking, political satire, beauty, mystery, and something a little bit different, look no further than Ali Smith: she has it all.