Latiolais: “Stories” for the Series

Claudia Cheffs/New University

On Wednesday, May 18, the local UC Irvine Bookstore presented the latest addition to its UCI Author Series with a reading by Michelle Latiolais from her latest work, “Widow: Stories.” The book is a collection of short stories masterfully crafted and endowed with genuine emotion, creating a moving monument to the joys and travails of human life.

A large crowd of admirers and book-lovers alike showed up to the reading, and Latiolais expressed her surprise and appreciation at the quality of the turn-out. After a brief introduction by Ron Carlson (whose latest work, “The Signal,” has remained on the best-seller lists in France for weeks), Latiolais, herself a widow, took center-stage and commenced with the reading.  She read three of the stories from her book, beginning with “Breathe,” following with “Burqa” and concluding with “Place.”

A clearly passionate Latiolais really connected with the stories as she read, bringing to the surface the full emotional depth of each and, with every word, weaving a gentle spell over the audience. As the title may suggest, the content of the book is not always very cheery, and in some places it can be downright depressing. But this is also what makes the work great: even in the face of her husband’s death and the aching sense of loss that accompanies this, the female protagonist is not left entirely hopeless, and she still possesses her memories of the good times in her life. Not only does her joy survive in spite of her aching longing, but her everyday life is given greater meaning as she tries to preserve the memory of her dead husband.  After the reading, Latiolais was met by a stirring round of applause, and she took the time to meet with attendees and to sign copies of “Widow: Stories.”

Besides showcasing her writing skills, Latiolais also charmed the crowd with her humor as well. When asked if she had any advice for the struggling writer, her response was simply: “Marry money.” She possessed a genuinely cheery demeanor despite the sometimes depressing atmosphere of her latest work.

“Breathe” tells the story of a woman preparing her linens for a dinner party, and it is comprised mostly of the woman’s own thoughts as she contemplates the flammability of the fabrics used for women’s clothing and the near-fatal burning experienced by her grandmother. “Burqa” is about a woman (possibly the same woman from “Breathe”) who is woken by the sound of dried roses whooshing to the floor of her newly emptied apartment. The woman dwells on the departure of her son for college, and she reminisces about her pregnancy and her delivery of the same child almost nineteen years ago. “Place,” possibly the most stirring of the pieces read, details a woman’s thoughts as she attends a late-night church service and is continually reminded of the tragic loss of her husband. Each of the stories is carefully crafted and brimming with emotion.

While the book may not exactly bring a smile to one’s face, anyone who appreciates dedicated writing and genuine emotional content would do themselves a great disservice by not reading this book.

Michelle Latiolais is currently teaching in UCI’s creative writing program. “Widow: Stories” was written largely after the passing of her own husband. This latest work has been preceded by two others: “A Proper Knowledge” (2008) and “Even Now” (1992).