Stolen Moments and other stories

by Ariel Smart

Fithian Press © 2,003, paper, 158 pgs. $12.95.
ISBN: 1-56474-4222-1

How is “meaning” made in a novel? In Ariel Smart’s Stolen Moments, it comes from character, impulse, a wish for one’s own space, a range of sensual experiences, travel, and the gift of good novelists — a skillful use of time.

In the title story, Arabel sets out to go to the theater, Anthony and Cleopatra, because she greatly admires the actor Helen Mirren.. But – she discloses to her husband – it is not in San Francisco – but in London. Then the adventure is started, setting the tone for the following stories. In the premier story, the speaker does find her own privacy, a momentary glass of wine, and she even manages to sneak into the actor’s dressing room to steal Mirren’s cigarette butt. These may be small places to occupy, but each is willfully achieved, even if not completely understood, and it always serves the prose writer to move the character forward. We find these themes will reoccur, even the “pilfer trivia,” but mostly interesting is the author’s knowledge and use of classic literature that underlies each event. This is unexpected in contemporary literature, and is one of the most fulfilling aspects of Smart’s writing.

In “After Summer” we meet adult students abroad studying in Cambridge’s Trinity College. These characters will reappear in the next two stories remarrying out interest and giving us the feel of a novella. We meet those familiar to us in “The Goldberg Curse” and “The Irish Conflict.” Because character is everything in narrative writing, thankfully Smart’s cast is made well enough to remember – These are persons on their way to a different sphere in their individual lives. There are lots of action lines to keep in play and this challenge is not for the beginning writer. Motion is Ariel Smart’s strongpoint – fluidity of thought – as she works with introspection to make psychological action. Smart has produced other published stories and a former collection. I read Stolen Moments once. Then I read it twice because I love a literate story; I like finding Shakespeare’s quotes imbedded; and I admire an intelligence that spikes the story with a sweet sharpness.

These stories take place in England and California. Of the stories in the States, one features a young child who witnesses a rape – Always the sensual, even if rude, is weighed beneath each line with the metaphysical. Within these stories we have characters willing to leave a former idealism toward a practical new place in the world.

But what it takes to make meaning in our lives is what this book is about. And what it means, finally, will stay with the reader for a long time to come.