Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Hilma Wolitzer

Yesterday I finished reading all thirteen stories in Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer. I have read only a few short story collections by a single author, and this one is my favorite so far. 

The title story was published in 1966. It is about a woman having a breakdown in the grocery story with her two small children. It shows the reactions and actions of the people in the store, and is very affecting.

Eight of the stories in the book are vignettes of events in the life of a couple, Howard and Paulie (Paulette), starting with a story about the birth of their first child. Some of these are funny, some are sad, and all are told from the point of view of the wife. 

Several of the stories at the end of the book are sad, very sad, but still very good reads. "Mother" is set in earlier times, starting in the years following the Great War. A woman who never expected to marry and had given up on having a child delivers a premature baby at a time when that situation was much more difficult to handle. 

Most of the stories in this book were published in various magazines in the 1970s, and they reflect the time when they were written. 

The very last story, "The Great Escape," was written in 2020 and brings Howard and Paulie into the time of Covid. It is both an uplifting story and devastating. 

Check out this review by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Kerrie lists all the stories and includes the date that each was published. In the book, the date is included at the end of each story, but I had not noticed that the order of the stories in the book is a different order than publication date.

Also see Patti's review at Patricia Abbott (pattinase), which inspired me to read this book.


Publisher:   Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020 
Length:      179 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      USA
Genre:       Short Story collection
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Margot Kinberg said...

This sounds like a really effective set of 'slices of life,' Tracy. We all live through those smaller moments (like going to the supermarket), and I can see how readers would connect to characters just on that score. And for some reason, I have a vivid mental picture of what it might look like to have a meltdown in the supermarket. The stories sound relatable if that makes sense.

George said...

Tracy, I've actually seen people--women and men both--lose it in the grocery store. Something sets them off and then all Hell breaks loose!

Cath said...

I don't know this author at all but this sounds like a really worthwhile anthology to get hold of. Ah yes, supermarkets... all life is there.

Sam said...

I love short stories, but I don't think I've ever read anything from this author. But I do love the title of the collection, and the story itself sounds very good. But the biggest seller of this collection for me is seeing that Elizabeth Strout thought so highly of it that she wrote the forward. I'll have to find it now. :-)

TracyK said...

Margot, these are very effective stories, moving and sometimes funny. I don't like to go to the grocery store (we just got back from a brief trip to pick up more fruit), and it would be harder with two young kids along.

TracyK said...

George, that hasn't happened to me, but it doesn't surprise me. I wonder what brings out stress in that situation.

TracyK said...

Cath, this author was new to me also. She wrote 9 adult novels and a few young adult novels between 1974 and 2012, and is over 90 now. Her daughter Meg is also an author.

TracyK said...

Sam, Thanks for mentioning the Forward by Elizabeth Strout. I meant to make a note of that in the post. The stories are different and very good.

Todd Mason said...

I still mean to pick up this volume, which I haven't done in the two years since Patti's review, and am glad you remind us and give further encouragement.

Least I can do is offer what has been indexed so far by her in the FMI:

Wolitzer, Hilma (1930- ) (about) (chron.)
* Behold the Crazy Hours of the Hard-Loving Wife, (ss) Esquire December 1974
* Coming To, (ss) New American Review #11, 1971
Bitches and Sad Ladies ed. Pat Rotter, Harper's Magazine Press, 1975
* The Easter Parade, (br) Ploughshares Spring 1977 [Ref. Richard Yates]
* Hearts, (n.) Farrar, Straus & Giroux, September 1980
Redbook November 1980
* In the Palomar Arms, (n.) Cosmopolitan September 1983
* Photographs, (ss) Esquire November 1976
* The Sex Maniac, (ss) Esquire December 1970
Bitches and Sad Ladies ed. Pat Rotter, Harper's Magazine Press, 1975
* Today, A Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket, (ss) The Saturday Evening Post March 12 1966
* Trophies, (ss) Esquire September 1975
* Waiting for Daddy, (ss) Esquire July 1971

_____, [ref.]
* Meg and Hilma Wolitzer Examine the Writing Life by Meg Wolitzer, (iv) The Washington Post September 5 2021


"Supermarket" might've appeared in SAT EVE POST not long before Patti began working there, when Very young...

Todd Mason said...

Aside from too many others hating the supermarket or the shopping experience generally, I think the size and noise of supermarkets, and the intentional distraction (consider how they tend to have hard floors for quick clean-up, once less true of department stores and the like, which causes That Much More Echo, etc.) as well as the necessity of what's mostly purchased there...for many, it's a stressor waiting to happen...(I am the grocery shopper of our household. One does get one's steps in.)

CLM said...

I have seen people have meltdowns in the grocery store - usually the children but occasionally the parents! I guess I am unusual in loving grocery shopping but I think it is because grocery stores (until Wholefoods arrived) in NYC were nasty, dirty, and inadequately stocked. Whenever I had a rental car I would fill up in the suburbs and happily bring several bags home. So when I moved back to Boston where there are many lovely stores, I was delighted. Even during the pandemic when people had their groceries delivered, I was happy to go shopping (masked, of course) although when the shelves were empty it got depressing.

The cover of this book is very appealing.

TracyK said...

Todd, so sorry to take so long to reply to your comments. Thanks for checking out for stories, novels, etc. that she has done. I had wondered what other stories might have been published.

I never don't shop at the grocery store alone; I always have a companion. I am sure I would get very frustrated at times if I did. Yes, one does do a lot of walking in the grocery store, but that is the good part for me. I always remember grocery story visits in my childhood as a positive experience.

TracyK said...

Constance, It is very good that grocery stores in Boston are nice. I find that each store has it quirks, its good and bad parts. I do remember grocery shopping during the pandemic as an escape from the monotony of always being a home, but also sometimes scary and we usually went out very early. I hated getting up early after I was retired.

Lark said...

A breakdown in a grocery store...I think we've all been there at least once, haven't we? ;D

TracyK said...

Lark, considering how many times I have been to the grocery store over my life, probably yes. Although lately we go more often because we eat a lot of fruit and it will only last so long.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Tracy, I need to read Hilma Wolitzer and Meg as well. This collection of short stories sounds interesting because Hilma Wolitzer wrote about these characters in the 1970's and 1980's and so it's nice to see them included in a 2020 short story. Another short story writer I need to try out is Raymond Carver. Short Stories can be so powerful and they don't get the attention they should.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I use to have a problem with reading short stories, but now I enjoy the variety and the different lengths and approaches.

I did try reading a few Raymond Carver stories a few years back and could not get into them, but I am always ready to try a different collection.