Literature: Fiction

By Christopher Yasiejko

It is rare that Mary-Margaret Pauer reads without a pencil in her hand. She likes books that have been adorned with the scribbled notes and underlined passages marked by readers – and, likely, writers – in years past, and she can’t help but to add her own notes.

It has been awhile since Pauer was able to read solely for pleasure. Writers, it turns out, often find it difficult to breeze through another’s work, instead reading and rereading phrases and clauses and sentences to learn why and how the writer did what he or she did.

At 60, she is writing short stories based in the 1960s. They are, she says, coming-of-age tales, as long as one believes coming-of-age is a lifelong process.

“My brain has always been a source of pride and joy and revenue,” Pauer says. “It’s nice to know that it’s still working.”

Hubba Hubba

I like to call Dom my Hemingway friend. He’s that strong and confident type who would fight a bull or row in to the sea to battle a fish. He’s a man’s man in an obvious way, struggling and being a hero. The ladies evidently appreciate men like that. He smiles when he throws a wolf whistle out the window and they smile back. Hemingway friends think of the best things to do; they make you feel special.

We’re garbage men. When I started in May, hired on as summer help, I was Dom’s rookie on the rural route. Now I’m full time. We’re partners and buddies. Dom and Billy.

The pay is good. We rake in the tips, from folks like the widow woman for taking her black-and-white TV, and from Mr. Petrie for hauling away his ripped Barcolounger. (“The missus got me a new one.”) From Constance, who had to clean out her father’s garage. Alzheimer’s got him.

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She claims no single style. Pauer, of Bridgeville, is a habitual reader, and a range of writers have informed her approach.

“I go through binges [of reading authors],” she says. “And then a part of it seeps in, and every once in a while you notice you have a Hemingway-like sentence appearing on the page.”

She’ll read a sentence again and again, until she fully grasps its place – and that of each word – in a story.

She enjoys playing with points of view, a practice for which she finds short stories are more conducive.

“The reader of a short story knows that a short story on some level is surreal, and they will let you go to the dark places, and they will let you go to the edge,” Pauer says. “I think a novel, they really do expect some chronology. There’s an expectation of how a novel should be structured, whereas a short story, I think, has fewer of those expectations. So you as a writer can play, and as a reader, you can enjoy it because it doesn’t go on, and on, and on.”

The Division’s grant will help her market herself and her work, which to date she hadn’t done. She plans a formal reading July 20 at the Biggs Museum of American Art as part of its lunchtime events series.