The storyline in “Dead to Me” is based on a disgruntled married couple (husband/wife), and the story itself narrated from the POV of the wife. A host of issues linger in the foreground—depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, a couple brimming with insecurities, and the wife cyberstalking (or cyber-spying on) her ex. Oh, and a kid to punctuate the situation (“He cried every night, after dinner until bed.”). And let’s not forget about the narrator’s scarred relationship with her own mother (“Lately, [my mom] never asked how I was doing…”).
In the same way Carver could write about everyday people with deeply intimate nuance, so too does Nash, but I won’t fall into the trap of comparisons (though I recognize I just compared the two, but only for the sake of pointing out differences) because there’s much more here—in Elle Nash’s story— than a domestic tale written in the vein of the venerated short story writer. Afterall, you probably won’t find threesomes, anal beads, or social media obsession in a Carver story. But here, with the release of her debut story collection, NUDES (in which “Dead to Me” is included), Nash is—pardon the pun—carving out her own place in short story lore.
The story “Dead to Me,” ultimately, is about a wife running away, but what’s so impressive here is that Nash moves back and forth from current story to back story (though we mostly follow the former) and from storyline to storyline (husband, friends, kid, mother, ex) without losing a single note of tension, even in the most so-called mundane scenes. “…I found myself sitting at a dining room table where my son curled up in his chair, oatmeal smeared across his chin. I picked up a plastic spoon with soft edges.” Even the detail of “soft edges” harkens back to the very real threat of this narrator potentially doing harm to herself (“I felt suicidal”). As readers, when we find out the spoon has soft edges, we know the likelihood of harm finding her or the kid—at this particular moment—is present, but dulled knowing the spoon is “soft.”
But for as seemingly unhappy as the wife might be—her name is Lyla, a lovely name—it’s not because she doesn’t care. If anything, what Lyla is guilty of is caring too much. She wants to be a good parent, daughter, mother, friend, and she wants to stay alive. “So in our sadness we made a pact. To stay alive, to hang together, the way we vowed on our wedding day.”
And she wants, more than anything, connection; something or someone to steady her manic thoughts and ideas. “We texted back and forth a few times after the dinner party, but nothing came of it. The last time I’d texted her, I asked how she was doing, and she replied, “Good.” And that was it. She never sent another text.” Perhaps what Lyla needed here was a simple reply from the neighbor/friend, asking: “How are you?” Not the superficial kind of “How are you” that has become a meaningless greeting. But instead, a real question–“How are you?”–asked from a place of care and concern. You might remember, Lyla wanted this from her mother as well, to ask how she was doing.
I was glad to find Elle Nash’s work. Two of my favorite short story collections have been published by SF/LD Books—Dylan Nice’s and Mary Miller’s—and I plan now to order Nash’s. If the collection as a whole is anything like “Dead to Me” I’m in for one of those rare—and treasured—reading experiences.
Elle Nash is the author of the short story collection Nudes and the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books), which was featured in O – The Oprah Magazine and hailed by Publishers Weekly as a ‘complex, impressive exploration of obsession and desire.’ Her short stories and essays appear in Guernica, The Nervous Breakdown, Literary Hub, The Fanzine, Volume 1 Brooklyn, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine and a fiction editor at both Hobart Pulp and Expat Literary Journal. She teaches a writing workshop called Textures. Find her on Twitter @saderotica.