Laura van den Berg's debut story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, a finalist for ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year award, longlisted for The Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Award. Her second collection of stories, The Isle of Youth, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in November 2013. A Florida native, she holds an MFA from Emerson College and is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences. She currently lives in Baltimore and teaches at George Washington University. (From Amazon)
I first heard of Laura van den Berg through an endorsement of her work by Karen Russell (almost every body's favorite contemporary short story writers) in the online edition of the Miami Herald. Both grew up in south Florida and both left as soon as they could. Another factor that put van den Berg on my want to read list was her short listing for the Frank O'Connor Prize. I was very happy to find the Boston Review had one of her stories online.
"Up in the Air" centers around the life of a young female professors of language studies. Her life is in crisis. Her mother seems to suffer from near psychotic delusions (she calls her to tell the daughter that her hair is on fire), her husband has recently vacated his decent job as a researcher to join a group, without pay, searching for a giant Loch Ness type monster that some claim has inhabited the Great Lakes for hundred of years. She tries to hold onto her sanity. Her department chairman is pressuring her to publish research papers. She is having an affair with one of her students and has sex with him in her office. He thinks it is a serious relationship, she does not. She drinks too much. She knows her husband may be losing his grip. She feels guilty of her lack of care for her mother, maybe her father killed himself a few years ago and now her mother thinks he is plotting to kill her. She wonders if her husband knows of her infidelity and if this is part of why he seeks escape.
"Up in the Air" is an excellent story about the pressures of life, about escapism, about coping with pressures from many directions, about dealing with madness in those closest to us. I look forward to reading more of her work.