REVIEW: Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer

In brief: A collection of short stories, mainly about Paulie and Howard, your everyday couple.

The good: Excellent writing and the last story tore me apart.

The not-so-good: With all good short stories, I just want more!

Why I chose it: Arrived from Bloomsbury with thanks.

Year: 2021

Pages: 179

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Setting: USA

Rating: 9 out of 10

Short stories are great to read during the week, when time to relax can only be snatched in small amounts. However, with this collection by Hilma Wolitzer, it was difficult to choose between ‘one more story’ and lights out!

Hilma Wolitzer (Meg Wolitzer’s mum) is now in her nineties, and in my opinion, should be up there with writers like Anne Tyler. She writes about everyday life and normal people with a keen eye that makes it all incredibly interesting. It’s about the little things, and the odd things that can happen to anyone. The stories become more powerful from what is not said, such as the title story. Yes, a woman does have a breakdown in the supermarket, but it’s the many things that the narrator and reader don’t know about that make the story stronger. Exactly what happened to the woman? What happens next?

Many of the stories are about Paulie and Howard, who were forced to marry after she became pregnant. Yet it’s a love for the ages as the stories follow them through their lives, good and bad. There is the excitement of a flasher in the apartment complex and the wistfulness of looking at display homes. The most powerful story of the entire collection is one written last year (most of the stories were written in the 1960s and 70s), called The Great Escape. In this story, Paulie and Howard are elderly, living a quiet life in their New York apartment dictated by medical appointments. Then comes 2020 and the sudden need for masks and Zoom…it’s a beautiful story that is heartbreaking.

To be honest, I had never heard of Hilma Wolitzer until now and I wonder what rock I’ve been living under. Her writing captures the essence of the era and emotions, small and big, like the pettiness of a husband who doesn’t help to a partner arrested for a crime. I’d love to see more of her work republished to capture a new era of readers.

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