Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Maureen F. McHugh’s “Eight Legged Story”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

It’s hard for me to stay away from the Small Beer Press archives when I’m looking for a new short story to read, so to return to Story Sundays…another Small Beer story, “Eight Legged Story” by Maureen F. McHugh.

“Eight Legged Story” manages to be gorgeous and haunting while dealing with the everyday of family relationships. Split into eight sections, it’s only the first where there is a real “drama”; a boy has been lost in the woods and his stepmother, Amelia, waits at home for news. McHugh explores the relationship between the stepmother and her stepson perfectly. This is a relationship that we don’t often see in fiction; probably the best known images of the fictional stepmother come from fairytales, stories in which the stepmother stands as a marker of all that is rotten with the world, invading the home. Although she doesn’t reference that image, it seems present in the Amelia’s mind throughout McHugh’s story:

What will happen to my marriage? When a child dies, divorce is pretty common. Two people locked in their grief, unable to connect. But I won’t grieve like Tim, and some part of me will be relieved. I’m honest with myself about this. The secret in our marriage will slowly reveal itself. He will learn that I didn’t love Mark, and how can you love someone who didn’t love your only son?

Amelia’s relationship with Mark is seen largely through phone calls, so it’s the stepmother-child relationship we watch shifting throughout the story. The sort of premature guilt Amelia feels – a guilt not over not taking care of her stepson but not feeling what she thinks she should feel, a guilt for not being able to expand her love for her husband to include his son – runs through the whole. “Eight Legged Story” is a fascinating character study, and even when outsiders reassure Amelia – even when you, as reader, find yourself wanting to excuse her her imagined failings – you can sense how little these other versions (or other visions) of Amelia’s story change her viewing of herself.

Read “Eight Legged Story” online


Be sure to visit Jennifer at Books, Personally to read her Story Sunday post on “The Way We Live Now” by Susan Sontag. Also visit our other regular Story Sunday participant, Shivanee at Novel Niche. If you’d like to join in to this weekly meme and run your own posts about short stories, available for free online reading, email story.sundays@gmail.com. We’d love to have you!


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