From the jacket copy: In the eleven kaleidoscopic stories that make up Bright Shards of Someplace Else, Monica McFawn traces the combustive, hilarious, and profound effects that occur when people misread the minds of others. The characters—an array of artists, scientists, songwriters, nannies, horse trainers, and poets—often try to pin down another’s point of view, only to find that their own worldview is far from fixed.
The characters in McFawn’s stories long for and fear the encroachment of others. A young boy reduces his nanny’s phone bill with a call, then convinces her he can solve her other problems. A man who works at a butterfly-release business becomes dangerously obsessed with solving a famous mathematical proof. A poetry professor finds himself entangled in the investigation of a murdered student. In the final story, an aging lyricist reconnects with a renowned singer to write an album in the Appalachian Mountains, only to be interrupted by the appearance of his drug-addicted son and a mythical story of recovery.
By turns exuberant and philosophically adroit, Bright Shards of Someplace Else reminds us of both the limits of empathy and its absolute necessity. Our misreadings of others may be unavoidable, but they themselves can be things of beauty, charm, and connection.
1. There's a lot of erudition in these stories - you have characters who know quite a bit about mathematics and police procedurals and horses, for example. Are these subjects related to work you've done in the past (or are doing currently)?
The subjects in the book range from things I know very well to subjects I knew almost nothing about when I began researching.. I’m an equestrian (and have owned horses for over twenty years) so I know a lot about horses, but math is another story. I’ve never been a strong math student, and my math education ended in high school. But I became interested in proofs and high-level math after watching a play, “Fermat’s Last Tango,” which was based on a true story about Andrew Wiles, a British mathematician who solved Fermat’s theorem. The play made math, which previously seemed to me to be the driest of subjects, seem intoxicating in its high abstraction.
This appealed to me, and reminded of a brief period when I become really interested in philosophy. I was reading things like Wittgenstein’s Notes on Color and Kierkegaard’s Either/Or. I’d read these texts, and hardly anything would make sense to me. But here and there, I’d feel a flicker of understanding, and it was as if this whole latticework of the world’s logic was being shown to me. Then the clarity would recede, the words would seem like gibberish once more.
I imagine that this is what it might feel like to be a mathematician, struggling to find connections and formulas that explain how the world works. I see it as being a kind of artist—searching for this high, clear ideal—but an artist that is looking for something far more specific than anything a writer or artist would seek. I liked the idea of exploring a character, like Aaron (the mathematician in my story) who has discovered a difficult proof--that private moment of exultation and disbelief before he shares what he knows with the world.