When I was a child we had pre-electronic Christmases. My parents always gave good gifts. What they lacked in resources they made up for with heart. One year I got a kaleidoscope.

That’s something like a Mac visualizer only without the music. I haven’t thought about that present in years. But it came to mind when I was thinking about Joan Wickersham’s third The News from Spain story.

It’s a story from the angle of vision of children. But the real story is what happens to the adults who, since they are viewed by kids, take on something of the remoteness of Martians. You remember when you were a child, surely, that adults seemed like they were from Mars. But maybe that was just my relatives.

The story isn’t long but it’s broken up into 17 sections, each with it’s own subtitle. The subtitles function like a chain of mini segues. Joan Wickersham has picked a fine technique for telling a story as a necklace of fragments. That’s my kaleidoscope image. A network of fragmentary anecdotes that are arranged to form a striking pattern. “Kaleidoscope” is a wonderful word.

The first section is called “The Other Girl”. You’re a thirteen year old girl attending a boys school. There’s only one other girl in the school with an odd doubled name, “Lily Joyce”. Wickersham must enjoy this character’s name since she writes it out in full when Lily is referenced. Her mother is also called Lily. Lily’s mother is called “Big Lily”.

At school, Lily Joyce drags our narrator into the ladies room even though it’s meant to hold one person at a time. It’s one of the few places in school where two young women can have a candid conversation. Lily Joyce uses the facilities without shame before our embarrassed narrator.

Later on, Lily Joyce chauffeurs her newly conscripted friend to her house. Big Lily is rich. “Rich” is Wickersham’s very direct word. The kids have been driven home by this blonde stud who later sheds his shirt to join them playing around in the Joyce’s indoor swimming pool. The next year he marries Big Lily who is twenty-five years older.

Big Lily is rich because her first husband invented something which is produced in a factory on the estate. But the property is so big that you can’t see the factory from the house. Ten years ago Big Lily took over the business because her husband shot himself.

I’m describing a mere page and a half of writing which is both compact and strange. It’s not so strange that it seems surreal. But it’s strange enough to hook you.

What should loom large in the life of children but teachers, those giants of the earth? I remember constantly looking “up” at them from my lowly kid’s desk.

There’s a married pair of teachers in The News from Spain, with the wonderful name of Sturm. All teachers have weird names. No offense meant if you are one. But that’s what kids think.

Mrs. Sturm is the Spanish teacher. Her hair is an architectural marvel of puffs, a croquembouche. Mrs. Sturm befriends our narrator who feels awkward because she is beginning class in mid-semester.

Wickersham adds an extraordinary touch by having Sturm let her pupil choose a new Spanish name, the exquisite “Marisol” in place of her real name, a “dull, single syllable of a name”, which we never learn. Imagine teachers who gave you new names when you entered their class! Wonderful idea, like shedding your skin each semester.

This has been a story with odd little moderate transgressions presented in a series of fragmentary narratives. But then Wickersham smacks you down with a very large transgression. Mrs. Sturm, a gifted teacher who tries to bring the spirit of Espana into her classroom, is a closet Carmen. She’s been sleeping with her students. I get the impression that she has worked her way through the school’s football team.

In the way that 13 year-old children can talk about their teachers, we get a view of Mr and Mrs. Sturm as from a distance, from the long end of the kaleidoscope. And the age that Wickersham selected for her child characters, thirteen, is decisive for the story.

Mrs. Sturm is forced out of the school. The gossip is that Mr. Sturm has hanged himself. That would be the second suicide by a husband in the story…if true.  By this time the distant Sturms have been reduced to an object of rumors as Lily Joyce fills in her friend “Marisol” on the details in the ladies room. The Sturms’ humanity has to be inferred since they are now masked from our direct view.

In the last section, it’s as if we’ve come up for air as our narrator speaks to us as an adult. “Marisol” is now a married woman in her forties.  She has made it to the Prado with her husband. They are waiting on line for admittance. She tells him the story that we have just read.

In a fade-out of strangeness, we learn that her childhood friend Lily Joyce ended up dropping out of high school, marrying a gas station attendant and moving west.

It’s a conclusion with a steadying flatness, as if the kaleidoscope of this wonderfully constructed story implodes into the routine dimensions of adulthood in the end. The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham, a daisy chain of seven ingenious stories, pubs from Knopf in the fall of 2012.

…I find the literature of Joan Wickersham emotionally involving, inevitably intelligent and with a flair for the best kind of drama, which is the drama between complexly realized people who find despite their best intentions, that their instincts and passions don’t mesh. Wickersham writes that we choose in rapture and ignorance, which her stories light up, as if we were peering into an illuminating tube, our vision diverted into glittering angles.