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‘The Souvenir Museum’: Elizabeth McCracken’s Story Collection Is a Tour of Loneliness, Loss, and Love

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Elizabeth McCracken
Edward Carey
Elizabeth McCracken

Families play a big part in Elizabeth McCracken’s latest story collection, The Souvenir Museum.

Mothers pine for lost children and try to recover broken bonds in unlikely but unforgettable ways. Sons and daughters negotiate ways to endure the families they are born or brought into.

In every single one of these twelve stories, everyone experiences some kind of loss as they journey closer to enduring love.

Highlights from the interview

On the characters of Jack and Sadie

I made them up. I'm so delighted to hear you say that they seem real partly because I had never written connected short stories before, and it's always been my feeling that one of the big differences between short stories and novels is sort of the shape and size of the character. So it was interesting thinking about character in a form or forms. It was sort of halfway between the two of them because they do feel much more dimensional to me than the characters of mine.

I feel like I was sort of getting to know them on the fly while I was writing those stories, I wrote them pretty quickly, all five of them, and then revised them together. I'm married to an English person. I'm married to another writer whose name is Edward Carey.

We are really in no way these characters, but they take the same vacations that we do and a lot of events and trips that I ended up using. I was sort of surprised by how different... they're not emotionally autobiographical at all, but several of the stories are quite factually autobiographical, if that makes sense.

On the character of Jack being a ventriloquist

I just really liked ventriloquism, and it delighted me to take a character I hadn't planned to make into a ventriloquist or an amateur or aspiring ventriloquist.

That is sadly how many of the decisions in my short story process are made is that I think this would just be really fun to write about ventriloquism and dummies and to think about them and think about the ways in which there's something joyful about them and something deeply upsetting about artificial people, and sort of upsetting about performers who are making terrible and mean jokes and pretending they're not by blaming the dummy at the end of their arm.

On making the decision to write one of the stories in the story collection in first-person point-of-view

I don't instantly know the answer to it. I do feel like sometimes when you listen to interviews, people go, "That's such a good question," and then they give an answer and you think, "You didn't think that was a good question. We already knew the answer to it. You weren't surprised by that at all." I think it might be partly... I mean, all of the short stories that I wrote, or most of them, when I was in my twenties were first-person. And I wonder if there's a relationship to that. I used to be primarily... I shouldn't say I used to be primarily a first-person writer.

I used to write primarily in the first-person and my first book of stories was all first-person. There was one third-person. And then my first two novels were both first-person and I'm writing for something first-person now for the first time in a really long time. I'm not exactly sure what I'm trying to get at when I switch narrators or what the difference in the effect is. I can't imagine, I certainly know the characters in a different way when I write first-person or third-person. I probably know the characters when I'm writing third-person better than I do my first-person narrators.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.