. . . each button has a story
On a gray day at a gritty flea market, Caroline Tilghman stumbles upon an unlikely treasure—jars and jars of buttons shimmering in a rich tapestry of color.
“Each button has a story,” the quirky button seller tells her. “Sometimes, when it gets quiet around here, I just look at them all and imagine. All those stories.”
The flea market encounter reminds Caroline of something she’s allowed herself to forget–she too has a jar of buttons, her inheritance from her dead mother, which she has put on the back of a shelf out of sight and mind.
In the quiet of night, Caroline opens the jar, pours out her family’s buttons, and releases old memories. As she does, she begins to see pieces of her life joined together to create patterns she never knew existed. Each button Caroline pulls out of the jar does indeed tell a story. Each button serves as a portal to a person at a critical point in time. Each button adds its own insight and color to the mix. Together, they create a way for Caroline to come to terms with the untimely loss of her mother, the rift between her and her perfectly polished cousin, Gail, and the life choices she has made that go against her traditional Southern upbringing.
Most of all, each button brings her one step closer to becoming a button collector herself.
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A Few Notes:
I began writing The Button Collector in 1995, but it was brewing in my head even earlier than that. The idea that the smallest things around us have meaning and help create a larger–if imperfect–whole has always been powerful to me. Items in a junk drawer, belongings lost in the park, fragments from a ruin–all provide examples of objects that can offer unique perspectives on the bigger story created by the collection itself.
The Button Collector follows a tradition of linked short fiction that includes One Thousand and One Nights and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as modern works such as Susan Vreeland’s deeply layered Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt. Linked stories sometimes lack the seamless finish of a traditional novel, but it is their fragmentation that allows each piece to offer commentary on the others. My personal belief is that this form of fiction continues to resonate through the years because at its heart there lies the most human of attempts–an attempt to relate, interpret and connect.
Another tradition that deeply influenced me while writing this book is the expression of female creativity in literature. While typically male versions of creativity–sculpture, metallurgy, architecture, etc.– were historically granted respect and viewed as serious, typically female versions were often viewed as frivolous and marginal. For the most part, weaving, sewing and similar endeavors did not enjoy prestige until Virginia Woolf and other twentieth century women added their strong voices to the literary canon. In writing these stories, I found it enriching to explore the different aspects of female creativity as expressed by the women in the book. I hope they inspire all of us to claim our own creativity.