The Isle of Youth: Stories
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
“Acrobat” is from Laura van den Berg’s second collection, The Isle of Youth: Stories (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). Her first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009), was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, longlisted for The Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Award. Her stories have appeared in Conjunctions, American Short Fiction, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere (see her website).
She said this about her story: “Acrobat” was the first story I wrote for The Isle of Youth. It was 2008, and I had moved with the man who would become my husband from Boston to rural North Carolina, where we were to spend the following year devoted to new writing projects. The decision to come to North Carolina had been mutual (when a family cabin became available for the year, rent-free, the choice seemed like a no-brainer), but the first sign of trouble came when I burst into tears as we crossed the Massachusetts state line.
The Blue Ridge Mountains were beautiful, but I pined for my friends, public transportation, and city noise. I wrote daily, but didn’t feel connected to what I was generating. I felt guilty for not putting all this free time to better use.
One afternoon, I passed a sign for the local Obama campaign office. I was already a supporter and since I had an ungodly amount of time on my hands, why not volunteer? Before long, I was working long hours canvassing and registering voters, thoroughly in my element.
Despite these new demands on my time, my writing improved. The volunteering gave me the structure, focus, and social interaction I had been lacking. After a long day of registering students on a university campus, I was back at home and engaged in some mundane domestic activity – watching dishes, I seem to recall – when the line “The day my husband left me, I followed a trio of acrobats around the city of Paris” passed through my mind like a ticker tape. Who was this woman? Why would her husband leave her in such a dramatic fashion? What was up with these acrobats? The line wouldn’t leave me and so one afternoon, I wrote it down. The rest of the story unfolded from there.