This Week in Short Fiction


Remember Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 Pulitzer-prize winning novel in stories Olive Kitteridge? What if Olive could come to life in a film adaptation? Man. In a perfect world, probably Frances McDormand would play Olive, right? In fact, maybe we could just give McDormand creative control of the whole project, yeah? Probably if that happened, McDormand would maybe talk to Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) about playing Olive’s charming pharmacist husband, and she might also ask Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) to direct. Maybe she’d see if Martha Wainwright wants to do a cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” for the theme song? Oh. And just for fun, maybe she’d find a way to give some airtime to, oh, I don’t know, Bill Murray.

You guys. This is all happening. Or has happened and is all ready to go. If you don’t believe us, watch the trailer for the two-night miniseries called Olive Kitteridge that will air November 2nd and 3rd on HBO. Still don’t believe us? Here is Frank Bruni interviewing McDormand about the project for the New York Times. See?

It will be a trial for most of us without high-dollar cable or special functions on our TVs, of course, to figure out how to actually watch the HBO series. We might have to make new friends with subscribers or reach out to old ones. But we probably should. Or somehow endure the wait until it becomes readily available elsewhere.

Or, we could pick up our old copies of Olive Kitteridge (or a new one if you loaned a copy to someone and never got it back, or for god’s sake if you haven’t read it yet!), and reminisce about this odd, wise, and sorely depressed, yet beautiful, person Strout created for us. Take this quiet moment from “A Little Burst” with an exhausted Olive, collapsed in her son’s bedroom the day he married Suzanne, a woman “who thinks she knows everything”:

Olive, on the edge of the bed, leans her face into her hands. She can almost not remember the first decade of Christopher’s life, although some things she does remember and doesn’t want to. She tried teaching him to play the piano and he wouldn’t play the notes right. It was how scared he was of her that made her go all wacky. But she loved him! She would like to say this to Suzanne. She would like to say, Listen, Dr. Sue, deep down there is a thing inside me, and sometimes it swells up like the head of a squid and shoots blackness through me. I haven’t wanted to be this way, but so help me, I have loved my son.

In Kitteridge, Strout gives us a lifetime of painful moments like these, where hurts strike deep below the surface and their residual fallout emotions hum and buzz just out of reach and release. It’s no wonder McDormand was so drawn to the project.


This past August, Tove Jansson would have been 100 years old. The Finnish writer is well-respected both for her adult fiction as well as her illustrations and writing of the world-renowned comic strip, the Moomins, a family of endearing hippopotamus-troll creatures. On Tuesday, NYRB Classics released a new English translation of Jansson’s selected short fictions, The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella share the honors of translating the stories from Swedish. Lauren Groff introduces the book, and NYRB calls the newest of a slew of recent English translations of Jansson’s work “unsentimental, yet always humane… stories [that] complement and enlarge our understanding of a singular figure in world literature.

We could take notes from Jansson’s determination to live the life of the artist. It is the only work she ever aspired to from childhood on, and she did most of her writing while living on a small island in the Gulf of Finland alongside her lifelong companion, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. We haven’t gotten our hands on The Woman Who Borrowed Memories just yet, but can offer a small snippet from Jansson’s novel The Summer Book to show the quiet observations this artist soul left behind for us to find. The book details the summer of a young girl whose mother has recently died. She lives on an island with an absent father and her grandmother, who is losing her awareness of the world. As we near our own shorter fall days here in the Western hemisphere, below are Jansson’s observations of summer’s end:

Every year, the bright Scandinavian summer nights fade away without anyone’s noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it’s pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin. There are no stars yet, just darkness. The can of kerosene is brought up from the cellar and left in the hall, and the flashlight is hung up on its peg beside the door.

You can read Alix Ohlin’s beautiful reflection on the importance of Jansson’s work in her life at The Millions.

Jill Schepmann's stories have been read on NPR and have appeared in Parcel and Midwestern Gothic, among others. She worked as a fiction and nonfiction editor at Nashville Review while getting her MFA at Vanderbilt. She lives in San Francisco and tweets @jillypants. More from this author →