Relative Strangers by Margaret Hermes – Reading and Book Signing
By Jaime Kelley, Walrus Contributor
In the late afternoon winter light of Sunday, February 12th, all eyes were on award winning local author, Margaret Hermes.
When I arrived at Left Bank Book in the Central West End, the room was already teeming with people; so much so that the staff were adding chairs to fill every square inch of floor space. Even still, many of the audience members found themselves with standing room only. We were all anxious to hear Margaret Hermes read from her newly released collection of short stories, Relative Strangers, the winner of the prestigious Doris Bakwin Award of 2011 for writing by a woman. Relative Strangers has garnered critical acclaim and is a work marked by such familiar themes as change, loss, grief, separation, hope, dreams, and humor.
Before beginning her reading, Hermes offered a dedication to her grandson, Peter, for the reading. With a shy smile on her lips, she explained that she had promised him a “PG rated” reading, and so would be reading from her story For the Home Team. As she stood before us – wearing a violet colored jacket – she exuded humility and grace, and was the embodiment of a quiet beauty often attributed to the gentle flower of the same color.
In short order, I was transported from the wintery landscape of Left Bank Books to the warmth of a summer day in Brooklyn, NY, 1951. Hermes’ main character, Daniel, was a 12 year old boy who loved baseball, his best friend Billy, his parents, and – though he didn’t know it – his life just the way it was. And so, when he found himself “exiled from Brooklyn to New Jersey for summer vacation” he struggled with feelings of separation and loneliness. Big change was afoot, and Daniel felt the rumblings; his parents were separating and he had been tossed asunder into the territory of the rival team. In a flash, his life had changed dramatically. In the story, Daniel’s inner tension is cleverly punctuated by Hermes with the tension and drama of the legendary 1951 pennant rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the NY Giants.
While Hermes read to us, I found myself being lulled by her cadences and enchanted by the way she wove her words into themes and images. Hermes’ descriptions are colorful, her dialogue believable, and her word-play wondrous. Hermes described one of Daniel’s projects that summer, while on his uncle and aunt’s farm in New Jersey, when his uncle enjoined him to make a new screen door. They did so using a miter saw, and Daniel observed “there must be tools for doing everything, simply, correctly…” It struck me that Hermes believes this, and she uses her tools – her command of language and her artistry – simply and gracefully.
We, the audience of adults (but for Hermes’ grandsons), listened raptly to her story of a 12 year old boy as if we, too, were school-aged kids listening to a bedtime story. So it was that when Hermes somewhat abruptly stopped her reading saying: “because people are standing, I’ll stop here…”, at that we all groaned and moaned and whined “aawwww!” Cries of “no, don’t stop” were accompanied by murmurs and suggestions about swapping seats with those who were standing, all followed by a shuffling of feet and exchanging of seats until we settled in again for the rest of the story. Hermes smiled demurely and obliged, much to our delight.
In closing, she graciously shared the limelight with two other authors who were present, encouraging audience members to meet them, as well. But there was no mistaking it, that afternoon the light shone on Margaret Hermes.
To read more about Margaret Hermes, please visit her website.
For more information about submitting an entry for the Doris Bakwin Award, click here.