Why Sharon Butala returned to short stories to write about women in the twilight of their lives
This interview originally aired on Nov. 2, 2019.
Sharon Butala is a Saskatchewan-based novelist and nonfiction writer and a three-time Governor General's Literary Award nominee. In 2002, she became an officer of the Order of Canada. Her books include the novel Wild Rose and the nonfiction books The Perfection of the Morning and Where I Live Now.
Her latest, the short story collection Season of Fury and Wonder, tells the stories of contemporary women in the winter of their lives. Each story is inspired by or is a tribute to a short story by literature's most celebrated writers including Flannery O'Connor, Shirley Jackson, Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver.
The power of the short story
"Everyone says people don't want to read short stories and that short stories don't sell well. But I'm sorry, I'm writing short stories right now! It had been 14 years since my last short story collection was published. I woke up one morning with the first short story in my head that I had had in awhile.
"I literally leaped out of bed and went to my computer and started typing and didn't stop until it was all down. By that time, another one was in my head and I had to get it down really fast. So I went through the whole 10 short stories in the space of under three months without any revisions. I then had to go back and revise."
Everyone says people don't want to read short stories and that short stories don't sell well. But I'm sorry, I'm writing short stories right now!
Celebration of writers
"But along with the first short story, I couldn't stop thinking about Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. And when I got to the end of writing my story, I needed a title.
"The story is about love and I'm still thinking about Carver. I thought the title could be, What Else We Talk About When We Talk About Love. After that, it became more and more clear to me that I wanted to respond to the wonderful writers and short stories I studied when I was young."
Quality and purpose
"This is a book about women. They have a tremendous sense of guilt that they, at least on this earth, owe their parents. Yet modern life has changed so much. When you're 79 like me and life began in a log shack in the bush, that's the only world they know. They can only think in their own terms. It's very rare for a person to be able to think very clearly and compassionately in someone else's terms.
"I think it's remarkably silly that society wants older women to be asexual and not to give any thought to the practice of sexual behaviour. That they should have risen above it. But there are so many physiological issues that arise for the elderly, especially those who are well into their 80s and older. Love at that point changes in quality and in purpose.
"But in practice, I believe in that romantic love."
I think it's remarkably silly that society wants older women to be asexual and not to give any thought to the practice of sexual behaviour.
Sharon Butala's comments have been edited for length and clarity.