When I first borrowed the collection Unlocking the Air and Other Stories from my local library, I didn’t realise that I had, in fact, read The EarthSea series by Le Guin as a child. I had found Unlocking by running a catalogue search for short story collections and hers was one of the few the library had which I hadn’t already read (note to self: find a new library). Though she may be noted for her science fiction/ fantasy work, the stories in the collection are reasonably grounded in the current day. The collection I read only drifted as far as magic realism, which, while quite fantastical, didn’t have any wizards.
The story that I went to first, Standing Ground, seems to have lodged in my mind the longest. It was originally written for Ms magazine, a publication I’ve never read but feel I ought to have. Now that I know they have short stories in it, I might be inclined to pick one up in the future (that is if it’s still around). Standing Ground doesn’t shy from controversy. It is the story of two women going past protesters to access an abortion clinic. At first we think that there is a mother daughter relationship between the younger and older woman, and there is, only it is the other way round. Delaware is the teenage daughter of Sharee, a mentally handicapped woman and it is Delaware, who is there to support her mother.
Despite her disability though, Sharee is clear that she does not want the pregnancy as it is the result of date rape. Sharee can clearly see the difference between her first, wanted pregnancy of Delaware, and with the current one, thinking of it as: ‘Mac had hurt her, cut her, made this wound inside her.’ Sharee seems to be able to view the abortion procedure with a clarity lacking to those around her.
The story also focuses on the protestors outside the clinic. Mary and Norman. Norman is old and doesn’t like the restrictions placed on him by the church’s organising body who say how the protest is to be conducted. Mary thinks that Norman is a fool, and is going to get them into trouble the way he swings his protest sign about. Both believe God is on their side, but Mary and Norman dislike each other personally. Their bickering seems to contrast with the solidarity inside the clinic.
Standing Ground is not propaganda, but no doubt, being published in Ms, it would have sympathies towards the one side of the argument. It looks more at the difficulties the issue raises in people’s lives. I don’t know if I am doing Le Guin justice here by speaking about a literary short story when she is more famous for science-fiction stories, but having read Standing Ground, I have thought about it often since and wanted to share my thoughts about it. The good thing about this blog though is I can return to an author in the future and look at some of their other work, so expect a Le Guin science fiction piece sometime in the near to medium distant future. (At least before 2020, I promise you.)