I was reading Narrative one night a few weeks ago and came across Heather Brittain Bergstrom’s story Reading Henry James in the Suburbs. I was a little surprised to find myself still thinking about it in the morning. Maybe it was because Helen reminds me of what I like to imagine might be the hidden side of some of my students, the side that is hungry for something more. I love the way she sinks into herself and finds herself there. I love the way that Ethan haunts her. The way he won’t go away
Curious about her work, I began looking for more of it and learned that her story “All Sorts of Hunger” was selected last year by Leslie Marmon Silko for the 2010 Kore Press Short Fiction Award. I ordered a copy and read it last week in a hotel room during my spring break.
The narrator in this story reminds me of another kind of student I sometimes come across, living where I do. I know those long empty distances. I know those lakes. I know that truckstop beside the Columbia. Not the way the characters do, who know the weather and the landscape through the cracks in the skin of their hands. What a surprise to realize the man she is living with is the same Ethan, longing in his sleep for Helen.
The structure of her stories–these two, in any case–the way they stand alone and fit together, the way a seemingly unimportant character, standing off to the side in one reappears unexpectedly in another, reminds me of Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I wanted more. I think there may be more. “All Sorts of Hunger,” I see, is part of Bergstrom’s recently finished story collection entitled Lake with the Dead Indian Chief’s Name. Look for her.