Smoking With Mary McCluskey

Read the Story December 15, 2005

In a world in which a fall down the stairs can fundamentally and forever change our lives, how do we dare even to move? What meaning arises out of these tragedies of fate?

Of course we dare move. We don’t imagine, nor should we, that the person falling down the stairs will be us. Or anyone we love. But – it does happen. If there’s a meaning in it, I haven’t yet discovered it. It seems random and mean-spirited.

My family and I call it that big bloody Monty Python Foot. Remember the little whistling guy in the Python series? He’s just so happy, skipping along, whistling to himself – and the Foot comes down and squashes him. We have to live with the Foot waiting in the sky. Could come down any moment. As to the meaning of these tragedies of fate – I don’t know. Does anyone?

What inherent risks exist in second-person narration? What led to your writing this piece (quite successfully) in second -person? What is the cost/benefit of this narration-for both this story and writing in general?

I like second person for the interesting perspective, the slant it gives, but only for short pieces. It can be very irritating to read in a long story. It’s risky because it becomes awkward and structured very fast. It seemed a natural choice here. I wanted a little bit of distance. But not too much.

Did that smile at the end surprise you as you finished the piece? Did you know it would be there? What would Sophie make of it?

No. The smile did not surprise me. I saw the smile first. The rest of the story fell into place after it. Sophie would see the smile as a proper response to her gift.

Of this piece, you wrote, “It’s either fiction or creative non-fiction, take your pick.” How does our choice-fiction or creative non-fiction-affect the piece itself? Which do you prefer? How do you read it?

Well, fiction is mostly pulled out of the air, or our imaginations. I have written stories about incest, plotting a murder, stalking a mistress, compulsive shop lifting and marrying an Elvis Impersonator, without directly (so far!) experiencing any of them. But some of my fiction does draw on real life experiences. Sophie is actually non-fiction. My brother did fall down the stairs, does have brain damage. Much of this is true. The only creative part here is the change in sex. A woman seemed more sympathetic as a central character. People are quite frightened of mentally ill males. Perhaps they fear violence. It was easier to say what I wanted to say with a female character.

A new year approaches (yikes!). So, what’s the best that 2005 had to offer in literature, web sites, music, movies, television, DVD, and the like? Also, any predictions for 2006? And we’d love to hear your New Year’s resolution.

Blimey – an impossible question. I’m always a year behind on everything, so I’m still working my way though the 2004 Booker short list. Loved Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I do have Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking on my Santa wish list, though.

I’m way behind on movies, too – I liked Ray and Million Dollar Baby. Looking forward to seeing The Constant Gardener. I’m hopeless on music. I remain stubbornly faithful to Brahms, Miles Davies and Bob Dylan. Websites – I love Zoetrope and don’t venture much further. Except to e-bay, which is becoming an addiction.

I don’t dare make predictions. It’s possible we’ll move away from multi-cultural novels, especially the multi-cultural family sagas. But I’ve no idea what will take their place.

I have the same resolutions every year – I will lose weight, I will exercise, even join a gym. I’ll become calm and sober and sensible and stop drinking too much white wine. I will not make impulsive, foolish buys on e-bay.

About the Author:

Mary McCluskey has been published in Atlantic Unbound, The London Magazine, Night Train, InkPot, Melic Review, Alsop Review, In Posse Review, BBC Radio 4, Zoetrope All Story Extra, and a number of others.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.