Originally published in Willow Springs 70
From the author
Notes on “Mrs. Schafer Gets Fit”
“Mrs. Schafer Gets Fit” was inspired by a real life event. I stepped out of the shower one morning and saw two little boys peeking into my bathroom window. I was horrified. I dropped to the floor and crawled into the bedroom, my heart racing. Later, I was struck by my reaction horror, instead of amusement, say, or anger. And why had I dropped to the floor? A more graceful person would have reached for a towel. A more assertive person would have scolded the kids. What would I have done if they had been girls instead of boys?
The experience got me thinking about the female body and the way it’s perceived by men, but also by women. And that led naturally to the relationship a daughter has with her mother’s body. It’s an intimate relationship, but also a fraught one. There’s the fact that a daughter is beholden, that her very existence hinges on her mother’s body. And there’s also the physical resemblance many mothers and daughters have. In their mother’s bodies, daughters can see their own, aged thirty-odd years. It’s a reminder of mortality, of change, of the chilling triumph of genetics over free will.
Once I had these themes, the main challenge was realizing them fully in a fictional world. I sometimes struggle with plot in my short fiction, but “Mrs. Schafer” came easier than most, maybe because the thematic elements were so clear to me before I started writing. The final version is very similar to the first draft. It’s a miracle when that happens!
Notes on Reading
I’m a bit reluctant to admit that I’ve been reading Alice Munro almost exclusively for about three years. When I tell this to people, they look alarmed and suggest I branch out. And I try. I had a successful Jhumpa Lahiri stint, and I’ve enjoyed Anthony Doerr’s stories, but mostly it’s all Munro. I’ve read each of her books at least twice, and am currently making my way through Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage for the third time.
For most of my life, I’ve been one of those hedonist readers who read as an escape from the tedium and anxieties of life. With Munro, though, I try to force myself to be more analytical. Her stories are satisfying and resonant, but the source of that resonance is often hard to pin down. I have to pause and trace an idea back through the text to find its source, or reread a passage that is as opaque as it is thrilling.
One subject Munro returns to repeatedly in her stories is the change the feminist movement of the 1960s wrought on the lives of married, suburban mothers. She depicts this change with some ambivalence, so that the surface of things the relaxed clothes and loose hair and casual affairs of these newly liberated women (and men) with the real emotional turmoil that comes with shedding one’s familiar habits and traditions. And maybe it’s this element of Munro’s writing that has me so entranced. Munro has much to teach us about the subtle expression of cultural and political forces in short fiction, about how advancement is as unsettling as it is liberating, and about how even the greatest societal shifts can be reflected in the quiet, inner lives of girls and women.
About Miranda McLeod
Miranda McLeod’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Sunday Times of London, the Bridport Anthology, Evolver, The Writing Disorder, and Roots and Culture. She is a Pirogue Collective Fellow and Huston/Wright Foundation Fellow. She won the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize in 2011 and has been shortlisted for the Tanne Foundation Award, the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Contest, and the Bridport Short Story Prize. She studied creative writing at New York University and Columbia University, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Literature at Rutgers University. She lectures on creative writing as a part of the Bryant Park Word for Word series.