In the world of literary fiction, there are fewer aspirations higher for a short story writer than to have her work published in The New Yorker. The magazine’s hallowed pages have been home to legends of the short story form such as Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, William Trevor, John Updike, and Eudora Welty.
Braunstein—whose debut novel The Sweet Relief of Missing Children won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Fiction—was celebrated last night at a gathering of friends and admirers at Mayo Street Arts. The event was co-hosted by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA) and Mayo Street Arts.
Braunstein gave a powerful reading of the story’s first pages as her young son, Asa, sat behind her in a wooden chair, his sneakered feet swinging and a proud grin on his face.
The titular character of Braunstein’s story is a motel room cleaning lady with a young baby in tow who is battling her penchant for huffing chemicals to escape the drone of her daily existence. Braunstein elaborated on Marjorie’s addiction in a brief online interview with The New Yorker: “Huffing seems particularly brutal to me. The temptation is always there. It’s domestic. It’s not unlawful the way going to an alley to buy crack is. The door under the kitchen sink is the way to your escape.”
Marjorie soon falls in with the svelte Gabe, a man who until recently weighed three hundred pounds. When she stumbles upon him while cleaning him room, Gabe and his wife Violet have been living in motel rooms for some time. The foursome—Marjorie and baby Della, Gabe and Violet—find their lives bumping against one another in surprising ways.
Taking questions after her reading last night, Braunstein explained that she’d written the first draft of “Marjorie Lemke” ten years ago and only returned to it after The New Yorker passed on a different story but asked to see more of her work. Her final published piece was, Braunstein said, something she could have only written after becoming a mother herself.
The ever-supportive Longfellow Books was on-hand at the celebration for Braunstein, selling copies of the April 1 edition of The New Yorker, as well as the paperback edition of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children—copies of both are still available at the bookstore.