Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Carol Emshwiller’s “Mrs. Jones”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I write about a short story available online. If you read the story, please add your thoughts in the comments!

Lemme get this out of the way early: Carol Emshwiller’s “Mrs. Jones” is about as perfect as a short story can be. Emshwiller knows just when to stop giving information, when to leave it to the reader to build on what she’s giving us to make the story even creepier and more horrifying and more fantastic than it already is.

“Mrs. Jones” is about two sisters, Cora and Janice, who live together but whose lives diverge and loop around each other in sometimes gorgeous ways. Not just that Janice is thin to Cora’s fat, or that Janice rises late and Cora early, but the ways in which they can effortlessly move about their house without seeing each other:

Cora comes back while Janice is upstairs taking her nap. She sits down in the front room and reads an article in the Reader’s Digest about how to help your husband communicate. When she hears Janice come down the stairs, Cora goes up for her nap.

At story’s open they see a flickering light in their orchard and with it evidence that someone, or something, has been there: partially-eaten apples, vomit, claw marks. It’s a kind of one-upmanship when Janice goes out into the orchard one night to find whatever’s been out there, to bring it back to their home and keep it in their basement and then…well, to go any further would spoil what Emshwiller’s laid out for her readers. But like I said, she knows when to stop telling us what’s happening, to leave it to the imagination:

As soon as Janice hears the old pickup crunch away on the gravel drive, she goes down in the basement, bringing along Father’s old straight razor (freshly sharpened), rubbing alcohol, and bandages. Also, to make it easier on him, a bottle of sherry.

But that’s all of that we see. We know what Janice does, of course, but Emshwiller recognizes the value in leaving the rest of this scene to the reader.

“Mrs. Jones” is a story from Emshwiller’s 2002 collection, Report to the Men’s Club and Other Stories (Small Beer Press), so if you like this story check out that book as well. If it’s possible to have a crush on a small press (and it is, it totally is) I have one on Small Beer.

Read “Mrs. Jones”

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This story is fantastic! Especially after Anna Karenina – I love concise writing! It kind of cracks me up how similar this is to the last story I read that you posted (“The Life You Save May Be Your Own”) – there are just so many similar elements, yet the stories are completely different. What I love about this story is how certain elements are absolutely ridiculous, yet that doesn’t matter at all. Little winged man (who, for some reason, made me think of the Jersey devil)? Not so odd. Problem-free basement amputation? Ho, hum. And you’re absolutely right, she gives just the right amount of information to spark our imagination to fill in the gaps.

Comment by Jennifer Marcketta

haha, i didn’t even think of the jersey devil connection…

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

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