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Rebecca Schiff Talks Technology and Illness, Volunteering to Be Objectified, and Writing What You Wouldn’t Say in Polite Company

9781101875414The Bed Moved is Rebecca Schiff’s debut collection of 23 short stories ranging from a few pages to a few paragraphs. Their language and voice are unique; sentences often end in ways that twist their beginnings. In “My Allergies Will Charm You,” the narrator opens with, “He had found me on the internet, and now I was going back to the internet.”

In “Communication Arts,” a teacher corresponds with students A, B, D, and Z, portraying a delicate and bizarre relationship between authority and vulnerability. Many of the characters make statements that are bleak in their honesty, revealing unintentional vulnerability. In “Third Person,” a few paragraphs paint a woman’s intricate but dissociated relationship to sex and connection: “Rebecca wanted to tell them not to worry, she forgot all the sex she had as soon as she had it, she didn’t really have it when she had it, and she hadn’t for a long time.” 

The New York Times Book Review commented on Schiff’s compact language, noting her “almost Nabokovian boldness and crispness of phrase. Nabokov summarized a death in two words: ‘picnic, lightening.’ Ms. Schiff condenses a woman’s college years: ‘Nietzsche, penetration’.”

Often the characters are unintentionally funny. Many deal with illness and death. I met with Schiff in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to speak about her book, the relationship between technology and illness, and the role humor can play when women write about difficult topics.