Swiss artist Urs Fischer says “art works best in people’s memories” by which he means “it’s not just the act of going to see it on the wall.” Fischer is talking about visual art, but, in the case of Claudia Smith’s Put Your Head in My Lap, at least, the same could apply to literature. The 16 short short stories in this 41-page chapbook are compelling and immersive when you’re in the act of reading them, but they get even better when you’ve finished and moved onto recalling them.
This may be because the stories operate like memories, sharp and edgy on some points, like when the narrator of one recalls, “The air smelled of clean laundry and coffee. It smelled so good,” but also blurred and dreamy at other points and seeming altered by the process of recollection as when another protagonist says, “Four years ago, my son wore mittens with elastic at the wrists, so he wouldn’t scratch his face. He looked like a little lobster […] His eyes were a still sky on a rainy day.”
Small details make the stories feel lifelike, inhabited, and even well-documented as if they could almost be nonfiction, like when a protagonist says of a rough time in her life, “I shopped from a list. I made pretzel Jell-O. My grandmother had made it; I Googled the recipe.”
The final paragraph of the book depicts the speaker of the last story this way: “She is remembering, holding her face up to the flakes the way she’d read about and seen in Christmas movies. It happened, it happened, she’ll say and you can’t take it back.” These stories feel, in the best sense, like they are true things, like they are things that happened. [Kathleen Rooney]