Tvetan Todorov says that the thing about a short story is that it’s so short it doesn’t allow us time to forget that it’s only literature and not actually life.
I’ve enjoyed AM Homes’ tough-minded, acerbic, emotionally off-kilter stories for years – from the one about dating a Barbie doll to the recent tour-de-force about love and atrocity, ‘Days of Awe’ (Granta 143; collected in Days of Awe, Granta Books, 2018). But I’ve chosen ‘Things You Should Know’ for purely personal reasons. When I studied Chemistry at school I always felt I was missing something basic: I muddled along, I passed the exam, but I never quite knew how or why. There must have been some explanation at the start of term that I had somehow missed. Over the years, this sensation recurred – remind me again why structuralism mattered? What is it you expect from me in this job, exactly? – until one day in 2003 I read: “There are things I do not know. I was absent the day they passed out the information sheets.” And I have never forgotten it. The sheets the narrator believes were handed out by her fourth grade teacher include, she guesses, “Not things to know, not things you will learn, but things you already should know but maybe are a little dumb, so you don’t.” It was perhaps the most banal epiphany ever because the fact that it’s a story – and the collection’s title story at that – means mine is obviously not a purely personal response at all.
Collected in Things You Should Know, Granta Books, 2003