Corie Adjmi didn’t plan to become a writer. In fact, she didn’t start her writing career until she was in her 30s. She also didn’t plan towrite a collection of interconnected stories, but as she got to know her characters, it was clear they all belonged in the same world.
“The stories were standalone pieces, but it seemed to me that my characters would know one another, if not intimately, then by six degrees of separation,” Adjmi says of the 12 stories in Life and Other Shortcomings. “Discovering the connections between them felt natural, even essential.”
Whether they’re in a restaurant or an internet chatroom, in the present or the past, Adjmi’s characters are linked through the shared experience of being a woman in search of agency and her place in the world. And as each protagonist navigates love, friendship, and family obligations, she demonstrates vulnerability and resilience, self-doubt and acceptance. The protagonists’ struggles are often determined by circumstance and the social mores of the stories’ varied settings and eras.
“One of the aspects of the collection that interests me most is its time frame,” Adjmi says. “Much has changed over the last four decades, and the #MeToo movement has brought some light. What was accepted 40 years ago would never be tolerated today.” The women Adjmi writes about challenge stereotypes, repress and express anger, and demand and enact change, even when it is seemingly incremental in nature. “Growth may manifest in small ways,” Adjmi says, “but these women are evolving.”
Adjmi’s impetus for writing has also evolved, owing largely to her desire for social change. And while she follows the adage “write what you know,” she also finds motivation and empowerment through writing from a place of fear and anger. “My own personal struggles, and those of women close to me, drove me to the page,” she says. “And since women are taught that their anger is bad and shameful, I had to find some way to express my dissatisfaction with the status quo and push back against gaslighting and male dominance. Writing was my way of saying ‘I won’t shut up or stay small.’”
While the stories certainly reflect the wounds of patriarchy, Adjmi believes they are also hopeful. “Each era brings its own problems,” Adjmi says, “but just as in life, there is also promise, and that is ultimately uplifting.”
Adjmi has also observed that while unease and longing permeate her stories, many readers find her work funny. “Maybe it’s my roots,” she says, “my Jewish humor—mocking, dry, ironic absurdity.” Or it could be her literary influences: two of her favorite short stories are Philip Roth’s “The Conversion of the Jews” and Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.”
One theme that winds through Adjmi’s stories is the central conflict between projected appearance and internal reality. In “Dinner Conversation,” two characters look at each other in a bathroom mirror. It’s a seemingly ordinary scene, but “there’s this moment,” Adjmi says, “when you’re facing yourself in the mirror and simultaneously lying about who you are, and what you want, for the sake of appearances.” Readers have undoubtedly experienced such moments of stark self-awareness, and sometimes laughter is the most organic response. “Juxtaposing genuine rawness with banal dialogue feels heartbreaking,” she says. “What these women say is funny in an absurd kind of way, and humor makes what is painful more digestible. Ironically, it also increases the tension.”
Adjmi says there is much more work to be done to ensure women’s global equality, but she is heartened by the progress that’s been made since many of her characters railed against their own oppressive circumstances. “There is sisterhood happening, a rising,” she says. “And I can feel the strength and love, the communal group hug from women. It’s an amazing feeling when women come together and lift one another up. We are learning to live in abundance, not scarcity, and we are standing up for ourselves—and each other.”