wow. that was surprising. damn, damn good stories here.
this is one of those books that i grabbed when it came across my desk just because i could. an unfamiliar author on a small press, “maybe it’ll be a new discovery” kind of thing. i grab those books like popcorn, and they just sit on my desk, as my stacks of greediness accumulate and make me feel bad about myself as a reader. and then months later the author contacted me, asking me if i would like a copy of his book. i get a ton of requests, and i have to turn down 99% of them, because i just don’t have the time to read anything except the things i read for that program-thing. but i had a break of A WHOLE MONTH, and i thought, “well, i already have it, and it’s short and i’ll earn some goodreads-author karma points and do someone a favor before indulging in this stack of books i have been drooling over, waiting for a break from program.”
but shit – i ended up doing a favor to myself. because this book surprised me. despite the double-danger of “i don’t know you” and “you are short stories,” i genuinely loved this collection. it has a millhauser quality to it, but it isn’t magical realism at all – it toes the line to where it seems like it could veer into magical realism, but it stops just before it does. except for the last story. maybe. and it definitely isn’t grit lit, which is the other place my taste lives. it’s just solid, well-crafted short story writing – a little dark without being sinister, a little melancholy without being broody – it toes that line in all things. it’s very restrained. which is not to say that it is boring or “safe,” but it’s like fishing – the reader is given just enough line to feel untethered, but the author is always in control. of the 8 stories, there are 3 that i think are absolutely perfect. for me and short stories, that’s statistically improbable. and yet.
i totally recommend this collection. and now i wonder what other gems are buried on my desk…
Hue and Cry (perfect story #1)
in which rex benbow – convicted sex offender – moves into thirteen-year-old lizzie’s neighborhood and she finds herself caught between two powerful forces: her father, whose serious illness has taught him to face the world with forgiveness and so takes lizzie and her younger sister over to welcome rex to the neighborhood, and her rebellious best friend julia, who wants to break into rex’s house and explore.
both of these are pretty shitty ideas, it turns out.
this story is so good. there is a density to it that really excited me. there are so many quiet layers to this one – familial duty, the lovingly competitive nature of girl-friendships, the awkwardness of poorly considered but well-intentioned gestures, the defeated exhaustion of someone under constant scrutiny, the moment of realization that even a father’s power has limits.
and just enough foreshadowing to supply closure without feeling overhandled. a perfect opening to this collection.
La Tristesse Des Hérissons
this story has a wackier premise – a couple already experiencing some emotional and physical distancing adopts a hedgehog named orion that turns out to be suffering from depression. adeline devotes herself to orion’s care, taking elaborate measures to treat him under the instruction of a veterinary psychiatrist. josh reluctantly follows suit, hoping to restore his relationship, as it’s pretty clear that adeline is the one who is truly depressed. it’s a tight and desperate story that edges towards farce while remaining dark and haunted. it’s a good balance and it made me really want a hedgehog. so i can make a boat out of him.
Rabbi Cynthia Felder was newly married, and in her pulpit only six months, when a former lover asked to borrow the sanctuary.
this seems to be a simple story on the surface, but it has delicious tension. i had no idea where it was headed, on its journey through faith and fidelity and rage and the fine line between doing a mitzvah and being taken advantage of, or opening yourself up to woozy nostalgia. this one’s got a quiet depth.
sad and gorgeous and true. the one who got away and was never truly had. the adoration of a charismatic and damaged fireball who never stayed still long enough to benefit from it. the lack of communication between the heart wanting what it wants and the head that totally knows better. the linger. just lovely. this one is not officially perfect, but it comes close.
Einstein’s Beach House
a get-financially-solvent-quick scheme goes bad, a family falls apart. not my favorite in the collection, but there were a lot of really great lines and observations of the family dynamic. it’s a little “surface-only” when compared to the rest of the stories in the collection, but it’s still a good piece.
The Rod of Asclepius (perfect story #2)
dear god yes. this one. this is a truly original and psychologically ass-kicking story.
“She knows,” says Aunt Henrietta. “But I don’t think she really understands.”
it is not possible to understand the things that people will do when grief takes over. some people react more … elaborately than others. there was jaw-dropping by me. if i had a heart to break, this one would have done it,
Sharing the Hostage
this story would be good friends with La Tristesse Des Hérissons. couples and their pets: what happens when they break up, and what happens to a new relationship when a woman loves a turtle she shares with her ex. View Spoiler »i was so hoping that this story would end up with maddie and the narrator going off on a road trip with fred, while he used his unknown-to-maddie ventriloquism skills to give fred a voice. like, forever. but ’twas not to be. « Hide Spoiler
Paracosmos (perfect story #3)
this one is the most jonathan carroll-y/steven millhauser-y of them all. and it is spectacular. it’s the only one that ventures into the magical realism realm (oooorrr dooooeesss iiiitt?) but it is just perfect. dark charms and ambiguity abound. two huge thumbs up for this one.