…a closer look at The Storyteller’s Sister

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at The Storyteller’s Sister, a CNF collection by Amber D. Hollinger

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Samantha Duncan


April:

What did you think about the general letter form of the first two pieces of this collection? The title grounds them initially, but the other than that they’re pretty free. I have to admit that I really like the way these two pieces played out. I think that they were able to accomplish expressing the complicated emotions expressed in both because they were vague.

Samantha:

These two pieces work well in their universality because, like you said, the titles are more explanatory. As most writers know, it’s not easy to effectively write in second person, but it’s done in a balanced way here, without the prose becoming over-dramatized. There’s also a cadence and flow going on that strengthens the voice. I particularly liked the title piece, not just because of its rejection of the damsel in distress archetype in fairytales, but because of this almost juxtaposition going on between the narrator’s message and tone – the former calling for the “you” to take control of her journey, while the latter speaks to the “you” in a commanding way.

April:

“Little Hands” was a lovely piece. She did an excellent job revisiting the hand image over and over so that we didn’t forget the little hands that made her jeans and the shame she felt, but also layering on story line by line through other hands. What did you think about the comparison between the little hands working in a sweat shop vs. the little hands that are protected and loved? Did this piece seem balanced enough for you or did it have too much sentiment? Is too much sentiment a bad thing when we’re discussing a form of enslavement and abuse?

Samantha:

It’s hard to write about this issue in a fresh way, so I like that Hollinger uses hands to tell the story – the hands that make the clothes, verses the hands that shell out money for the clothes, that go home and pray (but not for the child workers), that hold tight their own children with no second thought to children suffering elsewhere (I also like the repetition of “here” to further signify, geographically, the consumers’ separation from the goods they buy).

I don’t know that too much sentiment is a bad way to write about these types of issues, it just isn’t what I prefer. That said, I don’t think this piece has too much sentiment, though it doesn’t flow as well as the previous two pieces do. The overall message of it is lacking, for me. It’s commonly known that a hypocrisy about child labor/abuse and the goods we buy exists in first-world countries, so I guess I was looking for a further or additional point than that.

On a side note, I don’t know if Hollinger intended to do this, but the lines in italics, when read together, are a nice little poem, which, to be honest, I found more enjoyable than the larger story.

April:

What did you think of the piece,  “The Lady The Tiger: Silence in Two Peaces?” Could you feel the movement of the piece? To me it felt like the tiger on the hunt. Stalking the prey, but taking her time. And, of course, the prey was her reader. There were times where she toyed with meaning. Was she the tiger or the human. Who was really free? Overall, this is the most beautiful piece of the collection. So swiftly and delicately executed that she is indeed the tigress.

Samantha:

I agree, this piece returns to the musicality of the title story, and I like your description of it as a tiger on the hunt. There is a lot of toying with metaphor going on, and I like the plays on words (the title, for instance – “Silence Into Pieces”), as well as the ambiguity of just who the narrator really is – maybe suggesting the predator does not always act and feel like a predator? Also, probably the best line in the whole book is, “Marry your glowing eyes to the footprints of / mountains.” That one made me stop in my tracks and reread it. Brilliantly poetic and powerful.

April:

Finally, what did you think about the closing piece? I have to say one of my favorite things about the collection is that it feels like a conversation with a good friend. Each piece is a pep talk, or a story that somehow you just needed to hear. She comes at us again at the end with the repetition. Although this time it’s not only a play on Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You Will Go but also with a word that you don’t associate with comfort. However, it is in the repetition of the word that you find comfort. You can see that the narrator isn’t hiding behind anything. It is the openness of these pieces that makes it such a great read. What do you think? Could you feel the hand of friendship throughout the narrative, or did you find something else?

High highly recommend this collection. My overall rating is 5 out 5.

Samantha:

The closing piece is great and well-placed, as it stands out a bit in tone from the rest of the collection. Hollinger takes the cheesy sentiment out of the original book, and the result is a funny, crass, but still uplifting and lighthearted piece. Overall, the dichotomies and repetitions are what tie this collection together. Many of the stories are back-and-forth identity or power struggles – to stand up and speak or sit down and listen, to be confidant or uncertain (Elephant and Lion Play Pretend & That Stink is a visual example of this, placing text in two columns)? There are usually two characters playing off each other, sometimes in friendship, more often in guidance and learning and perhaps also protectiveness, in my opinion. Either way, the result is a cohesive group of stories that are stylistically drawn together, despite differing in subject matter. Hollinger’s effectiveness in getting these tales told is found in her unique storytelling style that successfully balances between overly preaching and being too lightly sentimental. A well-crafted collection. I recommend it.

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