‘Maggie Brown and Others’ by Peter Orner – Stories that Compress A Person’s Life into a Very Few Pages


‘Maggie Brown and Others’ by Peter Orner (2019) – 319 pages

The story collection ‘Maggie Brown and Others’ consists of many very short stories written from varying characters’ points of view, each story by a different individual, that somehow get to the main issues in each person’s life. The following sentence from one of the stories goes a long way in explaining why these stories in ‘Maggie Brown & Others’ are so attractive to us readers:

“I’m always interested in the way people edit the details of their lives, the way they compress all the years into sentences.”

This compression of a person’s life into a very few pages is exactly what Peter Orner does in each of these stories. These stories are character driven.

Along the way, there are penetrating insights into how we people live.

“Is it always a choice between love and pity? Back then she felt neither. Is there nothing in between?”

Many of the stories appear to be based on acquaintances that Peter Orner has met along his way from Fall River, Massachusetts to Chicago to Wisconsin and then winding up in northern California. Others are based on his relatives residing mostly in Fall River. Other stories concern himself and his wife and family.

All of the stories involve this compression technique of telling vignettes from a person’s life to get at the essence of that person. Even the 110-page novella which ends the collection is made up short one-to-seven page vignettes which tell a meaningful story of, I assume, his father’s life in Fall River.

Peter Orner uses one device that I particularly appreciate, the old-fashioned use of an astute observation or moral to tell the reader the point of the story. Even the one-page stories have a clear point. So many current writers in order to “Show, not Tell”avoid this device today, and their stories wind up seeming pointless and aimless. I see nothing wrong with a writer being straightforward and just telling us what the point of their story is.

In the story ‘On the Floor, beside the Bed’, the story about the guy who used to play for the San Diego Padres, the narrator who volunteers as a paramedic is fascinated by this former ballplayer husband and his wife.

“I’m sometimes struck by how people who don’t look like they’d fit together actually do.”

Throughout this book of stories, there are memorable characters, poignant moments, and life lessons. This is fiction at its most moving and meaningful.



Grade:    A



4 responses to this post.

  1. Yes, an interesting truth about the way we edit our lives. I’m not keen on family history but I make scrapbooks about my own life because I’ve realised in the wake of my parents’ passing, that there are many questions I wish I’d asked them. So, for instance, I’m currently making a scrapbook of all the houses I lived in during my childhood. There were many, and The Offspring knows next to nothing about them or why we were there. My friends, who’ve seen the work in progress, are fascinated. They didn’t know anything about this aspect of my life at all, except that I was born in England.
    But in the process of reducing a home to some photos and some explanatory text, I’m conscious of how much editing occurs, of which memories I think are worth retelling and which will remain untold. I guess this is what people do when they write memoirs!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      So you are originally from England, and I’m quite sure it is an interesting story how you wound up in Australia. That must have been a momentous move for your family. I lived in the same farm house for the first 18 years of my life and have never lived more than 200 miles from where I was born, so I must have had a much more sheltered existence.
      Perhaps one of your offspring is more interested in family history than the others, and that person can carry the history forward. My mother took a lot of pictures when I was a child and my younger brother did a great job preserving all those pictures and giving me digital copies of all of them before he died. It sure brings back a lot of memories.
      My daughter has an interest in family history, so she is preserving some of it.



  2. The Spouse is like you… born and bred in suburban Beaumaris, and has never lived anywhere else but Melbourne. I think that kind of stability is good for children because they grow up knowing that they belong, and it’s (more or less) what I achieved for my (one and only) Offspring. (And I have now lived in my own house for 40 years!)
    OTOH a peripatetic childhood makes children adventurous, adaptable, easy-going about other cultures and in my case (not my siblings’) good at learning languages.
    So there’s advantages both ways:)

    Liked by 1 person


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