What’s The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones all about?:
This is a story about two young girls trying to survive the perils of divorce, death and religion whilst experiencing the first pangs of sexual awakening.
What did I think?:
I have really enjoyed the themes explored by Julie Orringer in this short story collection so far and The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones is another of those tales with multiple themes as two girls stand on the brink of womanhood and begin to discover the adult world with all of its promise and confusion. Our narrator is a young girl called Rebecca who is sent to stay with her Aunt after a family tragedy. It is a whole different world for Rebecca who has always been close to her cousin Erica, but after her Aunt divorced then re-married and became Orthodox Jewish her cousin is now known as Esther, Esty for short. There are a whole lot of new rules and regulations to abide by whilst living with the family yet Rebecca enjoys praying and singing, dressing and acting appropriately and preparing for the Jewish festivals such as Shabbos as something novel, exciting and perhaps something to believe in.
When we first meet Rebecca and Esty they are swimming in the lake fully clothed and thoroughly enjoying themselves until they see a young boy familiar to Esty hiding something under the porch steps. After he is gone the intrigued girls rush to see what it is that he is so desperate to hide and are completely shocked to find a book: Essence of Persimmon: Eastern Sexual Secrets for Western Lives. After a quick flick through Esty pronounces it a sin and says they should hide the book where no-one can find it suggesting the top of the closet at home and completely ignore the boy, Dovid Frankel at the Shabbos celebration due to be held later on that evening. Later on, Rebecca finds herself caught in an exciting and intimate moment with Dovid at the party after a talk about religion and their own beliefs yet is certain he would not be touching her if she were an Orthodox girl like her cousin.
Later on, Esty is incensed about Rebecca and Dovid (we kind of sense that she has a bit of a crush on him herself) and refuses to speak to her cousin. She does however, take the opportunity to hide in the closet and have another look through the book, the same one that she described as “an abomination,” earlier in the day. The rest of the story explores the girls relationship and we sense that through the discovery of the book it has changed from pure and innocent fun to a more adult and competitive relationship where the ultimate goal is who can get the boy. It is obvious that both girls are struggling, Esty with her enforced new religion and new “Uncle,” and Rebecca with grief from what has happened to her family, worry over what her family may now be like and confusion over religion and her own beliefs. Throw in the discovery of sex, boys and what it means to both now very different girls and its no surprise that they’re having difficulties!
This was a really interesting little story and like the stories that I’ve read in What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, it was nice to learn a bit more about the Jewish faith. What I love about Julie Orringer though is how real she makes every character, especially her adolescent girls. When I’m reading characters like Rebecca or Esty, it’s almost like I’ve been plonked right back down into adolescence myself and I remember so acutely how things felt and the struggles that you go through. The link back to Rebecca’s family was also nice to read about and I actually felt quite worried about how this fictional family was going to cope after their tragedy – definitely the sign of a good writer! The author manages to explore so many themes in this story (and collection) especially religion in this particular tale without ever coming across as preachy which is great for a reader like me as I’m always interested to learn about other beliefs, just don’t give me a sermon! Luckily, Julie Orringer pulls this off beautifully and delivers another brilliant short story.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night