The Art of Telling Stories: Reading “Open Your Eyes When You Dive”

Here’s a writer that knows about the value of storytelling. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Amy Troncelliti Milavsky as a speaker at an event, and I’m thrilled to finally own a collection of her stories.

Like Amy, I grew up in a family that told stories around the kitchen table as a way of life. And the atmosphere and the variety of stories in this delightful new anthology, reminded me of that. Grapstories, hartseer stories, familiestories, droomstories… julle weet waarvan ek praat, daardie lang aande om die kuiertafel wat die praatjies na die zienk toe karwei sodat daar plek is tussen die koffiebekers vir groot stories, ou stories, lang stories, snaakse stories. Sit jy ook nou terug en onthou ‘n storie wat jou familie altyd vertel, wat iewers in die vorige eeu of selfs voor dit met ‘n oom se antie se oumagrootjie se ma se pa gebeur het, wat so helder in jou kop staan dat jy vergeet jy was nie self daar nie?

The subtitle of Amy Troncelliti Milavsky‘s Open Your Eyes When You Dive¬†reads “and other heartwarming tales.” And that’s exactly what these stories are, heartwarming. Take a look at this bit from one of my favourite stories, “Give thanks for answered prayers” of the grandmother’s special relationship with St. Anthony:

‘Ant’ny, find my keys,’ she’d call out. ‘I’ll give you five bucks if you do.’

And if the keys didn’t surface immediately, she’d call out again: ‘Alright, I’ll make it 10, but you’re not getting another red cent!’

Many of the endearing characters in the book had me in absolute stitches, like Neighbor Lou, taking it upon himself to investigate a suspicious mailbox in “Be a good neighbor”. Or the WWII vet, Mr. P. in “Talk to Strangers” who pulls a picture out of his wallet, with such dramatic flair that I just keeled over laughing:

‘Now get ready… I’m gonna show you a picture of the most handsome devil you’ve ever seen. You up for it?

‘I think so, ‘ I nodded.

And flapping it open so I could see, he pointed to a photo of a grinning, strappingly handsome, not-safe-near-any-woman young guy. And tapping it determinedly, he said, ‘Lucky you, Sweetheart. You’re with him now.’

And don’t forget “The Box Kids” in the problem class at school who ordered in fried chicken for lunch and smoked cigarettes to the growing consternation of their substitute teacher – the unexpected ending of this story, “Give ’em a Chance” will just make your day.

To me the most charming thing about¬†Open Your Eyes When You Dive, is the narrator’s ability to not only show herself falling flat on her face, but also weaving it into a story that will make you not only laugh at her, but also at yourself. What about that time you desperately tried to do something because you thought it would make you look cool, but then you looked like and idiot? “Smoking is not suave” will not only have you grinning at Amy’s scorched eyebrows, but also at your own. And what about that time you felt foolish after wearing the complete wrong outfit or embarrassed and scared after getting into trouble as a child? While reading “Always exit with style” and “Telling the truth is easier”, you might find yourself taking a different look at some of those cringe-worthy moments in your past and have a little grin at yourself. Besides, who can resist this opening line:

Pastry led to my downfall.

Today’s book is not such a dusty one. But the Dusty Books section is not just about the dust on the books themselves, but also about dusting off some neglected or forgotten dreams and interests you might have. The art of storytelling is something that warms many dusty shelves, when it should be out on the kitchen table and the stoep, spinning entertainment from the yarn that makes up our seemingly ordinary lives.