To my mind, nothing can convey flares of tenderness like a short story (…possibly this says more about me than I’d like) and no-one conveys flares of tenderness like Ali Smith. ‘The Second Person’ feels as personal as an anecdote and as universal as a fable, wheeling without ever being wheedling and ridiculous without being laughable. That’s what every great love story should be, and this one also features accordion shops and Ella Fitzgerald. Prat-fall into love with Smith’s light touch and then read everything else by her right now right now right now.
(First Collected in The First Person and Other Stories, Hamish Hamilton, 2008. First published in and available to read on Prospect, 2005, here)
I discovered Ali Smith in my early twenties and wasted a good deal of time attempting to write stories in her ‘style’, an act of mimicry I now understand to be impossible (at least, for me). Style, form and genre are notions Smith treats with elastic generosity. This story is part-anecdote, part-joke, part-myth, part-memoir, part-essay and part-speculation on what a short story is at all. With Ali Smith, there’s always voice in an intimate, embodied sense — the feeling that a good and trusted person is sitting with you, reading the story very quickly and quite close to your ear.
First published in Prospect Magazine, 2005 and collected in The First Person and Other Stories, Hamish Hamilton, 2008. Read online.