The photographer Diane Arbus said, “Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.” In the midst of that confusion is where she stood (I imagine) to take many of her now famous pictures. Some people she photographed made her “feel a mixture of shame and awe.” If you want the literary equivalent of Arbus, let me introduce you to Tasha Coryell, my second offering of “To Grow a Whisper,” a series of literary spotlights devoted to (mostly) emerging writers.
I once said if aliens visited earth, Coryell’s stories would be the ones I’d want them to read in order to (mis)understand who we are. Coryell is a multi-genre writer whose work showcases such smart and idiosyncratic observations on human behavior I’m not sure if they would want to save or destroy us, laugh at or comfort us. Either way, I know they’d read to the very end of every story, every poem, and even every tweet (she tweets @tashaaaaaaa and will make your day so go follow her.)
Much like the animals in her story “Dog,” Coryell’s characters are propelled by lack. They are un-whole in some way, even unwholesome, and yet wonderfully human, heartbreakingly aching. The people in her stories are (dis)connected to the bodies they inhabit while searching for meaning outside the body. Her characters are eating, drinking, touching, and yet the action never seems satisfying in the way the characters want them to be. They drink until they are sick, eat almost out of habit, and fantasize within limits: “he was always somewhat aware that it was his skin on his skin and not a more desirable surface.” (from “This Isn’t Really About Fishing) It’s a tremendous balancing act between tragedy and comedy, repel and compel, but Coryell manages it with every piece she writes.
“No one ever said that men fell in love with her immediately. Instead, men loved her as an accumulation.”
“She did not expect them to pick up large sticks off the trail, the way a dog might, and she did not expect them to rip their shirts off as though transitioning from man to beast and she did not expect them to start swinging the sticks at each other in the air.”
“Dictionaries, it turns out, are only useful for people who already know the language. It is difficult to make meaning by shouting a single word repeatedly.”
“I kept sneaking slices of bread to dip into the marinara sauce. It is still considered sneaking when a person is hiding something from themselves.”
“I managed to leave the hotel in the evening to get a sandwich, one with crusty French bread and thinly sliced meat, and a bottle of sparking water that didn’t taste at all the way I had expected it to.”
“He had never wanted to make someone happy so badly in his life,” Coryell writes in “Dog.” When I read her stories I can’t help but feel connected, invested. I can’t help but wish her characters happiness as well, despite everything they do.