Published by: Booktrope Publishing
Publication date: May 15th 2014
“Growing up had stolen the truth of us.”
A life worth living is a life worth sharing. Growing up in a small town in Montana not worth a name, that kind of life is not one Nick can manage, let alone comprehend. When fate gives him an existence he can barely recognize, he searches for meaning in the future he wishes existed, and attempts to escape a past that cannot be told, save for in the pages of a faded memory.
Melissa Thayer’s lyrical and poignant debut novel, part confession and part wistful longing, is an incisive look at love and loss, and what remains of a soul that is dashed against the rocky shorelines of hope.
Nick was about to leave the place he grew up. There was one last thing he had to do before he could be free. He didn't know when the next time he would be able to visit her was, so he stopped the truck on the side of the road. The chain link gates of the cemetery were still closed at 6 a.m. Nick pushed through the walk-in gate, dismayed at the lack of a path through the long, dewed grass. He picked his way through the grass and headstones, hyper-aware of where the bodies were underneath and trying to not think about the skeletons. His mother's headstone and her ashes were up the hill in the newer portion of the cemetery. As he walked by the dark stones with their names and dates stoic and unrepresentative of the person beneath, a wave of panic came over him, and his chest felt tight. He didn't want to be forgotten. There were too many things to do and say and see and not enough years, it seemed, by the looks of things on the hill. Oldness was coming. Bones creaking and skin thinning and hair losing and gut stouting and nose growing and deafness coming and death. He stopped against the trunk of a pine tree and breathed. He closed his eyes and focused on the early morning birds; the song of the meadowlark became clear and loud when he focused. He breathed in the air. It was fresh and new and cleaned by the night. He felt composed again and kept trudging up the hill to his mother. By the time he got there, his boots were soaked and the scuffed leather was damp inside and bits of mown grass and fallen pine needles were stuck to them as if they refused to die.
As always, he stood to the side of her stone. He knew he wasn’t on top of her if he stood in front, since he’d been there when they set her urn in the ground and topped it with the stone. But he stood to the side. He touched the cold stone and crouched beside it, not wanting the same fate for his jeans as his boots.
There wasn't much to say this time. He listened to the meadowlark and kept his hand on the stone. After a while, he traced her name with his finger. He traced the date of her birth, but stopped short of the next date. If he didn't touch it, it wasn't as real.
There are pieces in the novel that I wrote well over fifteen years ago. Here and there, among my notebooks I had scribbled a page, a paragraph, maybe a sentence that I collected over the years as I worked through life’s curveballs. When you’re a kid, death is such a foreign and far away idea, so when it happens it leaves a mark. I navigated through loss by writing and journaling. I struggled to adequately capture the feelings of the ultimate sorts of losses in life, and it finally surfaced in The Stories We Don’t Tell.
I started writing the story in July of 2010, I think, as a short story about how self is reflected in another. In fact, the first chapter was intended to be a short story. I allowed a friend to read it, and she wanted more, so I wrote more.
The second part I wrote was the end of the book, though it’s nothing like what ended up in the finished manuscript. I tossed out some amateur ideas that I thought would be good at the time, but thankfully there are editors. After I wrote the end, I filled in the rest with a sort of unpacking of Nick and Emma’s stories. In another interview, I was asked if books are required to have meanings, and that’s funny to me now because pretty much everything in The Stories is there for a reason, from the type of tree in Nick’s mother’s garden to why there are ten chapters. Not huge reasons. Not reasons that will affect anything other than my own satisfaction.
What started as a story about reflection of the self turned into a story of how Nick remembered things in his past, and eventually into stories of loss. I wanted to capture those feelings of love, expectation, and dreams—those things we all do—and the reality of what they might look like instead. Some people have said it’s a sad story, but I don’t believe it is at the core, in fact, I think it’s hopeful. I believe that in the present American world and culture we live in, we are told we can be and do anything that we can dream, but that’s a lie. It’s okay to not be the best, the celebrity, the bestseller, the person in the limelight; it is acceptable to just be.
Sin City native Melissa Thayer writes fiction that touches upon the timeless truths of the human condition in poignant and thought-provoking ways. She enjoys writing about people and connecting readers with her characters.
She currently lives in Washington with her husband, daughter, and three cats.
THE STORIES WE DON’T TELL is her debut novel.