Learning To Fly
Hardy Animals

Penny Simpson

I don't understand why this woman doesn't have a U.S. publisher.

 In the spring of 2010 I read Indigo's Mermaid in Aleksander Hemon's anthology, Best European Fiction 2010.  It was the best of the lot and though it seemed like the quietest story in the world, I was startled by how suddenly the last sentence humbled me into tears of gratitude.  (I just read it again and the same thing happened). A remarkable tale of forgiveness and kindness, two achingly real people etched "in just a few confident incisions."

From the author's note I learned that Simpson lived in Wales and that she had published one novel and was working on a second.  Jake managed to get me a copy of the novel, The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum and I read it that summer.  Here's part of what I scribbled in the back flap: "Spectacular characters and story, within the amazing frame of Esther's consciousness..."  It had all of the things that I look for in a novel, the meticulously crafted sentences that pull the reader along and illumine the real lives of the characters in a setting and a story that is rich and complete as it surrounds you and carries you away. 

I got a copy of The Deer Wedding not long after it came out and finally got to it a couple of weeks ago -- just as impressive and completely different, although certain themes and approaches crop up again.  I wouldn't want to rank writers of this caliber -- I'll just point out that I've been reading Nabokov and Harrison and Chabon and Butler and Updike this spring and Simpson holds her own.

So then I had to get a copy of her 2003 short story collection Dog Days.  Long out of print, but used copies are easily findable.  Mine showed up on Tuesday and I finished it last night.  Simpson shows an amazing generosity of spirit to her characters, damaged peopled in terrible straits, making lives out of the few fragments they've been given to work with.  For a long time I will be hearing the giggles of Caitlin and her Mam.

She says she's working on the 2nd draft of her next novel.  It can't come soon enough.  And for this one, I hope she can work a deal that will get her wider attention in the States.  Her work deserves it.




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