1. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,896
    Location:
    Boston

    Short Story Club (14): The Raspberry Bush by Sheila Heti

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by thirdwind, May 18, 2013.

    For this discussion we'll be reading "The Raspberry Bush" by Sheila Heti. The story can be found here.

    Based on Wikipedia, Sheila Heti is a Canadian writer, and "The Raspberry Bush" is part of the short story collection The Middle Stories. This story seems to be only a few hundred words long, so it should be a quick read.
     
  2. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,896
    Location:
    Boston
    I really enjoyed this piece of flash fiction. The last sentence really sums up how isolated the old woman is. She has no one to worry about, and there is no one to worry about her. Perhaps she has been completely alone her entire life. This story is very open to interpretation; we don't really know much about her life. From her conversation with her sister, I'm guessing that the old woman has no children (and thus, no grandchildren), and the flowers that are meant for the neighbor suggest that she is not in any kind of relationship. The raspberry bush is the only living thing she seems to care about, and based on the last sentence, I don't think she tries to grow any more raspberries after this bush dies (or if she does, they all end up dying as well).

    This certainly is a depressing story, though one that I liked. I'm interested to hear how other people interpreted it.
     
  3. BritInFrance
    Offline

    BritInFrance Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Messages:
    364
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Central France
    It wasn't until the end that I realised I liked it! I then re-read it, and liked it more. This is someone that others always turn to for support, and that she is seen as someone strong, and happy. "The woman who never stopped smiling" is how others see her, and so they never bother to ask her how she is, or listen to her properly when she tries to tell them something that is important to her. She obviously has nothing in her life, but no one sees that.
     
  4. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Hey, I just bought this book at the flea market last week - very cool stories! Loved the mermaid in the jar one.
    She has an incredibley unique voice. Haven't got to this story yet - I'm savoring them.
     
  5. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    It is a very nice short story. I think Brit's interpretation is spot-on.
     
  6. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,728
    Likes Received:
    4,826
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I generally question the value of stories this short - I'm not into flash fiction at all - because usually, I think, the themes demand a little more space than flash fiction provides. This story is an exception. It's a punchy little piece that isn't too short and certainly isn't too long.

    The end confused me, though. The first time I read it, I thought the last sentence meant that she cried every day only from that day on - that she didn't cry every day before the raspberry bush died. It makes sense that way, but it also makes sense if read to mean that she has always cried every day. This second interpretation is the one the writer probably intended, and is certainly more powerful, but it seems to diminish the importance of the raspberries and all the bad news the old woman heard from her sister. She cries when there's good news, she cries when there's bad news, she cries when there are raspberries, she cries when there are no raspberries.

    Hmm. I'm not really sure what to think about all that.

    Maybe the most telling line in the story is when she smiles at the guy with the flowers and says "These can't be for me." It seems nothing good is ever for her, but she smiles anyway. That is, until nobody's looking - then it's time to cry.
     
  7. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,896
    Location:
    Boston
    This is the way I interpreted it. To me, the raspberry bush was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was the only positive thing in her life, and after she loses it, she begins to cry from that day on.
     
  8. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I interpreted it that she had cried every day before and after, because the last sentence is "She cried at the table every day. But no one knew it." The fact that she's always smiling is emphasized, but it's really a mask. It only makes sense that it's a mask if it's been going on, despite the outward perception of happiness. I think if the author had meant that she cried only after that point, it would have been indicated.

    She calls her sister because she is so sad that the raspberries are dead, but the sister spews forth a whole litany of complaints about much larger issues. She may feel that she's not entitled to cry?
     
  9. Eliemme
    Offline

    Eliemme Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2013
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    0
    Actually, I didnĀ“t like this story much...It actually felt a bit pretentious. It seemed to me that the author wanted to say something very profound (tackling issues such as solitude, delusion, and relationship with the outer world) whilst at the same time being simple and refreshing. The result, to me, is a story that sound repetitive, as if I had read it already....Other stories in the same book seemed more original.
     
  10. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    I liked the story.
    The way I see it 'the little old woman that is always smiling' the smile is a mask she wears to disguise her inner sadness.
     
  11. squishytheduck
    Offline

    squishytheduck Senior Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2013
    Messages:
    187
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    The way I interpreted the story, the woman is extremely self-absorbed and insular. She was basically content with completely isolating herself from the outside world, the good and the bad. She isolated herself on purpose because she didn't want to deal with all the bigger problems as delineated by her sister, and as long as she was comfortable in her little house with her little raspberry bush, she didn't care one way or the other.

    But then the raspberry bush dies and she realizes that
    a) even completely isolating yourself from all the scary problems in the world doesn't prevent you from experiencing sadness,
    b) because she's been so distant from everyone else, nobody's there for her when she needs them,
    c) her problems are comparatively trivial but she has no perspective because she's been in her own little world for so long, and
    d) the flowers make her realize that there are positives to interacting with the outside world and the people in it that's she's completely missed out on for so long.

    And that's why she cries from then on, because of all the opportunities she's missed. The woman could be seen as representing these insular, backward communities who are too involved with petty, provincial issues that they don't care to take part in the larger world.

    Then again, I just read The Remains of the Day, so that may be coloring my perspective. Like pretty much everyone is "Stevens" to me this week.
     
  12. nastyjman
    Offline

    nastyjman Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    Messages:
    318
    Likes Received:
    139
    Location:
    NYC
    Ahh... old age. I interpret that the raspberry bush represents youth. The reaction from her sister when she told her that the "raspberry bush was dead" reinforces that symbol: grandkids flunking, son got VD, someone is divorcing someone. The raspberry bush is dead, and the sister's kids are decaying, just like the shriveled up morsels in the garden.

    It's interesting that she fully intended to enjoy those raspberries. Overnight, though, it dies. This may allude to Alzheimers. Her youth is far gone, and reminiscing about them could bring joy to her lonely life. The delivery guy with the roses is symbolic of youthful virility. Those were not for hers clearly, reinforcing the fact that she is old. And death might come overnight.

    That's my interpretation of it.
     

Share This Page