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Sara Rauch's Characters Bleed, Cheat And Make Art In 'What Shines From It'

Downtown Northampton, Massachusetts.
Carol Lollis
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The Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Several of the stories in Sara Rauch's "What Shines from It" are based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The characters in Holyoke, Massachusetts, writer Sara Rauch's short stories largely live and work around western Massachusetts. But also in Vermont and California, and New York City after 9/11.

In her new collection, "What Shines from It," some characters make art. Some grapple with pregnancy. Others cheat on their partners — or get cheated on. They drink too much, get hurt and try to figure out life.

Rauch said the recurring themes were not intentional.

Sara Rauch, writer: But when I went to put the collection together to start submitting it, I was like, "Wow, I guess I'm a little obsessed with certain things."

The pregnancy thing is a big one, and that was my own personal kind of dealing with, struggling with that — the idea like, "Did I want kids? Do I not want kids?" I felt like I was kind of getting up to a point my life where I needed to make a decision. And, of course, there's any amount of that that's going on just regularly. But I think it was maybe a natural, “I'm just going to let my characters grapple with this stuff and see what happens."

Holyoke, Massachusetts, author Sara Rauch wrote "What Shines from It," a collection of short stories.
Credit Courtesy Sara Rauch
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Courtesy Sara Rauch
Holyoke, Massachusetts, author Sara Rauch wrote "What Shines from It," a collection of short stories.

You know, they all make different decisions, of course, because they're all just different people.

And a lot of the other stuff — I was joking with someone, "I feel bad for my characters...I guess I know when I start, someone's going to bleed." Someone is going to just get hurt in some way — and often physically.

There's a really strong heartbreak theme throughout. That's just something I return to. It's something that fascinates me. How do people break and then heal, break and then heal? We do it over and over and over again all throughout our lives, in small ways and in big ways.

And relationships are one of the — especially intimate relationships — are one of the biggest ways, the biggest places where that happens.

Sam Hudzik, NEPM: So if you could read a little bit of one of the stories called "Slice." This is about a dressmaker, Emmeline, and her boyfriend, Sebastian. You've got a section there about an eggplant-inspired dress:

They’re the Bond Girl of vegetables, Sebastian said the night I basted the drop-waist bodice to the skirt. We’d just finished a toaster-oven rendition of eggplant parm—no easy feat in my two-burner-hotplate and dorm fridge kitchen—and knelt, soaping dishes in the clawfoot bathtub, the apartment’s only luxury, even if it doubled as sink. I don’t get it, I said. Beautiful to look at, he said. But kind of bland. I’ve never seen a Bond movie, I said. You’re kidding. How did I not know this?

I loved how there were no quotation marks in the book. There's so much dialog, but sometimes you're left as a reader, deciding for yourself exactly what's said and what's thought. Is that a choice you always make?

Kind of half-and-half. Half of the stories had quotation marks originally and half of them didn't. And when we went through the editing process, my editor was like, "Oh, you should probably choose one or the other."

The cover of Sara Rauch's collection of short stories, "What Shines from It."
Credit Alternating Current Press
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Alternating Current Press
The cover of Sara Rauch's collection of short stories, "What Shines from It."

So I thought about it and I just thought the ones where I had been specific about not including quotation marks, if I put quotation marks in, I'm going to lose some of what you're talking about...that, "Did they say this or did they think this?" You don't know. That's up to the reader to decide.

I think "Slice" originally didn't have quotation marks. That was intentional. I wanted to be in Emmeline's head and not know...There's so much in this story [where] there's this tension between them of, like, "What's being said? What's not being said?" I wanted to play that up.

So there are 11 stories here, but two of them belong to the same two friends. We meet them in adulthood after they hadn't seen each other for a long time. And then later in the book, jump back in time to, I think, a teenage adventure.

Yeah, Calla and Audrey. So those two characters have been with me for a long, a long time.

The story that takes place in the later time when they're older, that story came first. And then the story when they're teenagers arose out of that story as backstory. And then as I was trying to make sense of — "I don't understand. Why did this even come up? Where is this going?" And I was like, "Oh, I just have two stories. OK." So I pulled them apart.

And one of the most amazing things about short stories, to me, is that you can see a moment in a character's time — this tiny moment of transformation. That's great. It's just there. It exists. You don't need the full world of a novel.

But sometimes there are characters — you just can't let them go. You know, there's more to it. Calla and Audrey were an example of that. And I have played with writing about them even more into the future, but I haven't quite gotten there yet.

Check out more of NEPM's Summer Fiction Series here.

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