In putting this together, I picked twelve of my favourites, then had a look to see if there was a theme hiding in there that might create some kind of order. Unsurprisingly, there was (in stories, as in life and love, we often have a type). Broadly speaking, my favourites deal in daily life, in people putting one foot in front of the other. These stories give no quarter to the extraordinary, full as they are of the ordinary, of people doing their best in difficult circumstances or having already done their worst. My type is characters who are ordinary and layered, whose complexity makes me work a little to understand them and whose honesty means I am happy to do the work.
Family – which features heavily here – has always struck me as a fascinating, slightly doomed experiment. The sheer weight of expectation we expect it to carry with grace: that we will be loved no matter what, that we will be forgiven, the permanent benefit of the doubt we expect for ourselves (and often withhold from others). In some cases that faith is justified and in others it is not, and both are here, because eavesdropping while families unfold their loyalties and limitations is about as absorbingly human as it gets.
Twelve wasn’t quite the Mary Poppins bag I imagined it would be and I’ve had to leave many others out. That said, here are the ten stories and two essays I carry with me. The ones that often cross my mind, that raise questions that interest me and, sometimes, answers that comfort me.
(Any misinterpretations of these writers’ intentions are entirely well-meaning and duly mortifying.)