This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Short Story Advent Calendar, one of the Christmas season’s most dependably enjoyable traditions.
The brainchild of editor Michael Hingston and designer Natalie Olsen, who together run the Edmonton micropress Hingston & Olsen Publishing, the advent calendar features twenty-five short stories – one per day between December 1 and Christmas. The stories are by Canadian and international authors, professionally edited, and beautifully designed. This year’s version comes in a selection of differently coloured slipcases, and each individual story is saddle-stitched and typeset for easy reading.
The first story in the 2019 iteration, Beginnings, is by Israeli-American author Shelly Oria. Told in the first person by an anonymous woman, it traces the trajectory of an extramarital affair she embarks on with an editor at a publishing house: “The man is an editor and I am a writer and so we are both part of a world in which going to literary events is not an action but rather something that happens to you.”
In addition to being savvy about the literary world and the interactions within it, Oria’s major innovation here is to include editorial interpolations and queries from an anonymous editor (possibly the man in the story, perhaps not, but almost certainly a man), suggesting revisions to the writing style, point of view, or subject matter: “Keep the POV consistent; find another way to communicate her vulnerability.”
These interruptions are canny on the surface, and will ring true to any writer who has ever been intrusively edited; where they really come alive is in their questioning of the author’s subjective interpretations of events. “Flirting is harmless. Did something happen? Without clear action, you don’t have a beginning.”
What Oria has provided is a #MeToo-era story that serves as a companion to Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person,” Lynn Coady’s “Someone Is Recording,” and Mary Gaitskill’s This Is Pleasure. It’s a story that limns the muddy interactions between men and women, the blurring of the lines between professional and personal, the power dynamics in an asymmetrical relationship, and the nature of consent.
Beginnings is a worthy entrée into the season’s selection of short fiction, which is a treat for any literary type who wants to mark the approach of Christmas but doesn’t much care for chocolate.