more of this world

Nine stories make up New Orleans’ writer Barb Johnson’s wonderful debut collection of linked stories, More of This World or Maybe Another. In the first and title story, Delia is the narrator and we meet her boyfriend Calvin and his sister Charlene, who goes by the name of Chuck. Regarding place, often used to link stories, we’re not yet sure where we are, but from the top of the water tower, Delia describes what she sees:

“In the other direction, night is rolled out as far as Delia can see. There’s swamp out there, she knows, and the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond that, there could be anything. More of this world or maybe another.” (17)

In the second story, “Keeping Her Difficult Balance,” the first sentence uses the word place and before the first paragraph is over, place is established, not only for this story but also for the preceding one (and it will turn out, for the collection as well): “this bayou, which is right smack in the middle of New Orleans…Not at all like the one from her childhood in the boonies of East Jesus.” On the next page, the boonies are given a name: “…Gremillion, where she and Calvin grew up.” Two of my favorite quotes come from this story:

“This, Delia decides, is how artists are, how she herself wants to be. Everything isn’t necessarily logical or practical. Life can be this way or that way or some other way altogether when you’re an artist.” (33)

“She’s discovered that, to make Calvin fit into the picture, she’s been shaving away at pieces of herself. The piece that loves to read, for instance…And Delia has realized that she shaved away the part of herself that deep down thinks real, true love probably has more attraction to it than what she feels for Calvin…But she wonders if her crankiness with Calvin might be from having to listen to the shaved pieces of herself shouting at her: WakeUpWakeUpWakeUp.” (35)

The nine stories in More of This World or Maybe Another are linked by character, by time, and by place. Delia is mentioned or implied in every story (although there are three other narrators). Other characters reoccur. The stories appear in chronological order, with at least one character in each story being recognizably older, giving the reader a sense of time passing, of a real world. Every story takes place either in New Orleans or in Gremillion, where Delia grew up. These three methods of linking the stories add to the layered and rich feel of the collection. Recognizing characters we know from other stories and watching them grow up is a way of giving the reader of each story an additional delight—the delight of recognition in a larger world.

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4 thoughts on “more of this world

  1. I was planning to buy this and now will do so right away! Cindy, you write the most eloquent, informative reviews on the web! I always feel like I have some actual sense of the book – which is far from the case with many others.
    And congratulations to Barb Johnson!

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    • Thanks, Robin. That’s really nice to hear. My only quarrel with this collection was I thought the second-to-last story should have been the last story for a number of reasons and that it would have been easy to fiddle with the chronology to make it so. Let me know what you think after you read it.

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  2. I’m starting to think we are twins and were separated at birth. I am currently reading Barb Johnson’s story collection. I bought it a couple of months ago, but it got lost under a stack of books. I just found it last night and read the first story.

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    • Darrelyn, that is so funny. I thought of you when I saw Barb Johnson was from New Orleans. It made me wonder if there was any sort of community of writers there.

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