Stories by Tracy Winn
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Recent Endorsements and Reviews

“You won’t easily forget these characters, mill owners and union organizers, hair dressers and immigrants, whose lives are full of loss and discovery, regret and beauty, and whose stories brush against one another, overlap, and intersect in unexpected ways. These are deeply satisfying stories, subtle, intelligent, and beautifully crafted.”

“Short stories may not attract the sort of attention that novels or memoirs do today, but Winn's masterful debut serves as an affirmation of their emotional potency. With little fanfare, she has produced a book that will endure.”

“It’s with extraordinary grace and subtlety that Tracy Winn crafts the interconnected stories that make up Mrs. Somebody Somebody. We’re immersed here in varied and individual lives, but these stories as a whole tell an insightful and historically sweeping tale of labor and class in modern America. To achieve that kind of scope while rendering the smallest gestures and exchanges of dialogue with such acuity is more than remarkable—it’s inspiring. When characters are brought to life with this vibrant nuance, they continue to live far beyond the page.”

“In Mrs. Somebody Somebody, Tracy Winn uses her substantial powers of language and observation to explore the ties that bind and the secrets that separate. Like the Merrimack River that flows through them, these wonderful stories run deep.”

“Even at age 80 I am doing something new: reading for the second time [these] stories which first moved me deeply only a couple of months ago...It's like the enjoyment that comes with savoring a repeat performance of a great string quartet.”

From the Boston Globe

Short but not sweet
In the mill city of Lowell, interwoven tales of yearning, disappointment, and betrayal
By Steve Almond | April 19, 2009

By Tracy Winn
SMU Press, 189 pp., $22.50

There was a time not so long ago when writers could make a living crafting short stories. Those days are gone. Amid the downturn in publishing, the new mantra among literary agents and editors is: "How can we transform these stories into a novel?"

Tracy Winn has wisely (and courageously) resisted the pressure. The 10 tales gathered in her new collection, "Mrs. Somebody Somebody," offer a testament to the power of the short form. They do what all great stories must: capture their heroes and heroines in the throes of astonishing events.

Here, for instance, is how the title story opens: "Lucy Mattsen was nobody - like all the women I worked with - until the day the baby fell out the window. It was break time at the mill. Us girls from Knitting leaned on the railing over the North Canal, airing out our armpits and sharing smokes. The baby was bare except for diapers. It fell like a bomb in the newsreels."

Not only does Winn deftly establish our setting, she makes it impossible to stop reading. But the story isn't about the obvious forms of heroism. The narrator, a feckless girl named Stella, comes to realize that her friend Lucy is a union organizer. This is a dangerous pursuit in the mills of Lowell, which rely on pliant workers. But Stella, whose idea of economic advancement involves marrying rich, never grasps the risk Lucy is taking. She winds up haunted by her failure to support the cause, which ends in tragedy.

The rich fare no better by Winn's accounting. A later story, "Glass Box," offers us a glimpse into the marriage of Dr. Charles Burroughs, the repressed son of the mill's owner. He and his wife, Delia, find themselves at a Sunday dinner, which unexpectedly includes their former gardener, Augustus Wetherbee.

"Charlie came in," Winn writes, "bringing more popovers. Delia straightened up and said, 'Why don't you tell us something about your growing up, Mr. Wetherbee. Were you very active in your church youth group?' She smiled at him. He turned his big head toward her, and it was as if her own center of gravity shifted. She knew, with her hand's own memory, the saltiness of his hair, the heat of his soft ears. She imagined how she would hold his head to her breasts. She would follow the curves of his thick shoulders and back with her hands, like water over falls."

The sudden revelation of this passionate affair amid such bourgeoisie decorum sends a jolt through the reader. In its ruthless and tender precision, the story offers a dark variation on James Joyce's famous "The Dead."

Given its geographic focus - all the stories are set in Lowell - and overlapping cast of characters, readers will compare this story cycle to Sherwood Anderson's classic "Winesburg, Ohio." Like Anderson, Winn has a knack for laying bare the hidden desires and regrets that haunt her stifled protagonists.

But "Mrs. Somebody Somebody" is a more far-ranging collection. Winn records the fates of a broad range of characters, ranging from a dreamy hairdresser to a Brazilian child immigrant to an aging and lovelorn bookie. She is especially skilled at writing from the perspective of children. In the brief and devastating "Smoke" we see the ruinous childhood of Frankie Burroughs, the oldest child of the unhappy union between Charlie and Delia, who is treated as something closer to a pet than a boy. Not surprisingly, in later stories Frankie appears as a nearly feral creature, a homeless alcoholic whose fall from the top of the mill his grandfather once owned echoes the falling baby that begins the book.

Winn's collection is filled with such haunting echoes. Consider the scene in which Frenchie Duras, the aging bookie, recalls making love to his paramour Stella for the first time. She is the same woman who once spent her days knitting cotton in the mill. Winn writes, "Afterward, Frenchie rolled off her onto his back. He felt he might float right up on the current of his feelings. Yellow heads of grass swayed above him in the vivid sky. Heat of the sun. Clouds. Clouds that didn't look like anything. Cotton maybe."

One of the most striking stories, "Another Way to Make Cleopatra Cry," is narrated by Kaylene, a precocious little girl who is hoping to avoid being shuttled into foster care. "I knew the phone number for every place we'd ever lived," she tells us. "The old motel number, or the apartment in West Virginia, or Clarendon, or Reading, or Irving . . . or the white house with the dangling shutters, I forget the town, all the way back to when my teacher taught us Your Phone Number Is The Code To Home: learn it in case you get lost."

Winn writes about class throughout the book, and she captures socio-economic entrapment without sentiment. But her stories ultimately transcend these concerns. They carefully expose the universal desires for love and security that live within all of us - and the ways in which well-meaning but damaged people thwart these desires.

Short stories may not attract the sort of attention that novels or memoirs do today, but Winn's masterful debut serves as an affirmation of their emotional potency. With little fanfare, she has produced a book that will endure.

Steve Almond is the author of the essay collection "Not that You Asked," among other books.