When Susan Minot writes a new book, readers take note. The award-winning author, who summers in Maine, has been on the scene for several decades, her career spanning multiple media. She’s known equally as a novelist and screenwriter, short story writer and poet. She’s also an accomplished painter, and probably makes a mean omelette, to boot. It should come as no surprise, then, that her new collection, “Why I Don’t Write: And Other Stories,” her first in some 30 years, showcases her versatility. Its 10 stories range from mainstream to experimental, with sundry stops in between. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking that several authors had contributed to the mix.

Cover courtesy of Knopf

The stories tend to highlight couples in varying stages of engagement – entrenched, wannabe, playful, bickering – though Minot always returns to the women and to questions of identity. She has an unmistakable knack for distilling things, and gorgeously, at that.

In the story, “Polepole,” an American documentary filmmaker is dismayed to learn that the man she’s taken up with in Kenya has a wife and kids. “She felt the outline of herself begin to dissolve,” Minot writes.

In “While It Lasts,” a woman thrives on the urgency of new love, also unbalanced by it.

“Everything lately was going fast. It was like being in a wave,” Minot writes. “Other things that had mattered a great deal to her a month ago she could hardly recall – it was as if they had become weightless objects and were drifting about in a gravity-free air, no longer of concern to her.”

In “The Language of Cats and Dogs,” a woman remains haunted by a clumsy pass made decades earlier by a college professor.

“The image of her frozen in the fish tank of his littered car would remain intact for forty years,” Minot says. Then later, “Nothing new happens, yet if our mind looks again, it can find a new experience in something old.”

In this collection, Minot also flirts with suspense, as well as surreal humor. Her tale, “Cafe Mort,” takes place in a death-themed restaurant, where the menu alludes to such items as cremated shrimp and morphine supremes.

Perhaps the best example of the author’s protean range can be found in the title story. “Why I Don’t Write” lists a veritable catalog of impediments to writing – fragments of chatter, news headlines, whatnot. Written in short jagged bursts, it becomes a tract on the impossibility of single-minded focus. Among its countless asides is a tiny prose poem that Minot tosses into the mix, a small gift amid the surrounding chaos:

“Star-splashed sky. Wind in the grass. Butterfly. Bee seeming to be in fast motion, burrowing in a flower. A flower you never saw before.”

Taken as a whole, Minot’s collection is, by turns, spiky and intimate, adventurous, stark and lyrical. Like most story compilations, it includes a misfire or two along the way. Still, few story collections shine as brightly.

Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews. Her book of linked essays, “Someday This Will Fit” (Bauhan Publishing), was named a Finalist for the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards.


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