Shout Her Lovely Name
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
“Plum Tree” is from Natalie Serber’s debut collection, Shout Her Lovely Name (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt). Serber’s stories have been published in The Bellingham Review, Inkwell Magazine, Third Coast, and elsewhere, and her work has won the John Steinbeck Award and Tobias Wolff Award. She has been short listed in Best American Short Stories.
Serber said this about her story: At the time I wrote “Plum Tree” my children were teenagers and in my daily life I was concerned with the tension between power and vulnerability. I thought a lot about how teenagers can be both brave and dumb, perceptive and unaware, in the moment and calculating all at the same time. I was also concerned with both sides of the equation of parental culpability. Does the apple fall far from the tree? Does our behavior impact our children’s decisions, and conversely, how much can we pin our choices on our parents? In “Plum Tree” Nora is inching toward her own morality. She is discovering what she is willing to do to belong. And of course, sexuality is a huge part of that movement.
All of this isn’t to say that I set out to write a sociological study, or that I had an ending in mind. These questions and concerns were just stewing in my head. When I sat down to write, I simply started with Nora and her friend Zellie in the back yard without rolling papers. I pictured the dying lawn, the dropped fruit, the clear sky, the tampon, the screams from the roller coaster. I started with people and then I put them at a party, and then messed things up and let the characters act.
Usually I am a slow writer, but this story came fast. I loved writing about the friendship between the two girls, the easy way they are together. And, I was just as surprised as Nora by the mother’s final question, “are you happy?” I’m not certain Nora knows what it will take to be happy in her newly complex world. In “Plum Tree” she is discovering.
Robin Romm, writing in the New York Times, said of the collection: “When 14-year-old Nora gets a pair of diamond earrings in the mail from the father she’s never met, her mother, Ruby, looks at them and dryly remarks, ‘They’re the size of birth control pills.’ It’s an excellent line, rich with subtext, the kind Natalie Serber delivers again and again in Shout Her Lovely Name, her nuanced and smart collection of stories.”