Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket: Stories by Hilma Wolitzer
‘Howard didn’t answer and I thought he’d fallen asleep. He sometimes did that in the middle of a conversation, a gift I believe was exclusively granted to men.’
TODAY A WOMAN WENT MAD IN THE SUPERMARKET
From her many well-loved novels, Hilma Wolitzer—now 90 years old and at the top of her game—has gained a reputation as one of our best fiction writers, who, according to the Washington Post, “raises ordinary people and everyday occurrences to a new height.”
These collected short stories—most of them originally published in the 1960s and 1970s, along with a new story that brings her early characters into the present—are evocative of an era that still resonates deeply today.
In the title story, a bystander tries to soothe a woman who seems to have cracked under the pressures of motherhood. And in several linked stories throughout, the relationship between the narrator and her husband unfolds in telling and often hilarious vignettes. Of their time and yet timeless, Wolitzer's stories zero in on the domestic sphere and ordinary life with wit, candor, grace, and an acutely observant eye. Brilliantly capturing the tensions and contradictions of daily life, Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket is full of heart and insight, providing a lens into a world that was often unseen at the time, and often overlooked now--reintroducing a beloved writer to be embraced by a whole new generation of readers.
I feel like the title of this novel is quite fitting with the times in which we find ourselves living, except it’s not just a woman going mad at the supermarket, it’s everyone. When I think back to the beginning of the pandemic last year, to the hoards of people with stacks of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and flour, as if preparing for the apocalypse. I still get a sense of some folks going mad at the supermarket these days. Especially when I don’t pay attention to the arrows on the floor.
A foreward by novelist Elizabeth Strout lets the reader know right away that they’re in for "immensely gratifying, poignant, funny, and well-crafted stories." She goes on to say "It is only life, we realize. In all its extraordinariness."
It’s fascinating to think that Today a Woman Went Mad at the Supermarket was first published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1966, followed by a number of these stories being published by Esquire and Ms. magazine, as well. I like to imagine my granny picking up a copy and reading it in her armchair, with the paper in one hand, a brandy in the other.
"There are insipid beginnings to a nervous breakdown," the novel begins. "Yet something seems very right to me about going mad in a supermarket."
Hilma’s prose is vividly descriptive and pulls the reader in immediately. By the first page, I was hooked. She doesn’t give much away, just enough for the reader to understand what’s happening, and leaving them desperately wanting more.
Engrossed in the introductory story, I felt like I was right there in the aisle with the mother, almost as if I could smell the naval oranges, see the cans of pantry items stacked high in the aisle, and feel the cool metal of the cart as I grasped my fingers around its handlebar.
|Illustrated by Austin Briggs, Saturday Evening Post|
Wolitzer describes the scenes so skilfully. She manages to capture the emotions of each character so accurately that they feel real. I felt at times these characters could be friends, family members, or neighbours.
There were even times when I found myself relating to Howard in the book, regardless of his age. And while Howard treats his depression by looking at modern homes, I treat mine by looking at books.
Like Strout says in the foreward, “you may find—at first glance—what you think of as ordinary lives, but you will come away recognizing that every person does, in fact, have an extraordinary life.” An accurate depiction of what’s to follow.
Each story contains so much depth within just a few pages, and the next tale is just as captivating as the previous one. It seems it's always the first sentence, that’s where Hilma captures the reader, as if she’s throwing a lasso around them holding them captive for the remainder of the story.
“We had decided against delivery room photographs for ourselves. Everything would be recorded perfectly in the darkroom of the heart.” Just a glimmer of the absolutely gorgeous prose in this collection of shorts.
There is so much reading between the lines within this book, so many more stories within the stories themselves, and that in itself is a beautiful thing. It allows the imagination to run rampant.
I found each story to also have an edge of dry humour to it, which I loved.
“As for me, I have good days and bad. At the supermarket, I am dazzled by the bounty. In bed, I am a passenger, still ready for cosmic flight. My daily horoscope predicts smooth sailing ahead!”
The new story, bringing the characters to the present moment was show stopping, I absolutely love that Hilma added that. That story in itself is enough to pick up a copy of this book. I also think this is a great gift for anyone who may have read Hilma’s short stories all those years ago.
An escape for the afternoon, this book whisked me away to many places over the course of a few hours, where my emotions ebbed and flowed, like the waves of the sea.
Truly timeless, this collection of shorts has proven to be. How something published so long ago can still be so entirely relevant today. A fantastic and gripping assortment of stories, Today A Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket, was absolutely splendid.
|Courtesy of Hilma's website|
Hilma Wolitzer is a critically hailed author of literary fiction. She is a recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award. She has two daughters—an editor and a novelist—and lives with her husband in New York City, where she continues to write.