I Walk Between The Raindrops: Stories by T.C. Boyle

Now- suddenly, wonderfully- purpose had come back into her life.

I was hooked by T.C. Boyle’s latest collection of stories, while they aren’t all uplifting and happy, in fact they are often unsettling, the tales have characters behaving, feeling as non-fictional people do . Yes, it can be terrible, but it’s genuine. The quote I used is from the story I enjoyed the most, The Apartment. In it, a ‘spritely French woman’ of ninety years of age (Madame C.) has an apartment that many would covet, but no, not the man who desires it. The woman, surely, is nearing the end of her life with no one to leave it to and wouldn’t it just be perfect for his family? Their own apartment is “too small to contain his growing daughters”, so he makes a proposal, one that his wife grows to hate. We all know how plans go awry, and in my mind the blessed Madame C. has a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. It also had me thinkin about the idea of what we deserve and what we get. Life doesn’t always follow the expected path, the order we assume it should.

SCS 750 is a nightmare story for me personally, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but it’s not a farfetched idea at all. The horror is a credit system that benefits all the good citizens, and technology based on facial-recognition, I think people know where this is going. There is a government based social credit system in a certain country now that comes to mind. The Shape of a Teardrop is a hell of a story, about parents, their responsibilities, adulthood, failure to thrive, and the undeniable hypocrisy of the “victim”. It plucked my emotions, darn it! There is a tale about a cruise and Covid19, I honestly try to stay away from any fictional book about the pandemic as I have Covid19 burnout, I imagine many people feel the same, but The Thirteenth Day was an interesting perspective, also rotten to imagine. I can feel the mounting panic those contained and restricted go through, the hopelessness and fear. This collection has stories that are hallucinatory, futuristic, absurd and tender too (I’m thinking of Dog Lab), oh my little dog loving heart! It was refreshing to read stories that aren’t run-of-the-mill, ugh here I go using idioms, sorry. Walking between the raindrops metaphorically, you aren’t getting wet, you are dodging the hardships if you apply it to life, no? Interesting title, I Walk Between the Raindrops, because the characters are trying to avoid obstacles, the dirt of life, but often failing. The book has been described as witty, biting satire, and inventive, it really is. Yes, read it!

Published September 13, 2022

Ecco

Vanished: Stories by Karin Lin-Greenberg

It would be an understatement to say that it was not enough, that all my actions back then were not enough.

This collection begins with Still Life, where an arts professor in New York is disenchanted with the younger generation of artists. She thinks of them as ‘dabblers’ who aren’t passionate about honing their skills, for without a big following like her younger colleagues who have gallery shows in New York City, she is unable to instruct the more serious students she desires to educate. Her style of painting is out of fashion, worse, with the demands of her life she hasn’t been as prolific in her career as she wanted to be. Did she settle after tenure? She is getting older, and the art she sees the younger generation produce turns her off. They seem to want it all to be so easy. The people the students admire are hardly able to produce anything beyond ‘squiggles and blobs’ and know nothing of technique. Her frustration grows when she procures stuffed pheasants for her intermediate students to draw. I liked this, it’s quiet but the offense Alice takes at the changing times, it’s something most people will feel at a point in their life, when you feel cut off from popular culture.

In Housekeeping a brush with tragedy leads to small fame for a maid and a chance for to get out of her small town, leaving her younger sister surprised to be the one left behind. A twelve-year-old blind and partially deaf raccoon is meant to be a lesson in kindness and compassion for students in Roland Raccoon, an idea middle school teacher Ms. Gardner thinks is pointless. She has witnessed far too much cruelty and meanness to imagine even a furry creature piercing their cold hearts. Will it work? Vanished is about Margaret’s new roommate at college. She isn’t thrilled by Hayley, someone far more extroverted than she is, too open and friendly. Over Thanksgiving weekend Margaret goes home, Hayley decides to go camping in the Adirondacks, what follows is a shocking terror and a lucky escape from danger, it also stretches their thin bond even further, until Margaret feels abandoned. She was just beginning to think they could become friends, was finally making an effort.

Lost or Damaged is my favorite story, so ugly is the behavior and yet so typical when a girl feels threated by the shine of another. Why are girls mean to each other, well sometimes it’s as simple as loyalty and long standing friendship. It’s a phase some never outgrow, but most do, thankfully. The tales are about ordinary people, how they cope with life or hide from it, even if it’s with mountains of junk in their home and birds, or behind their cynicism. I felt the author was pointing out how thoughtlessly we put people through tar and feathering with all the ‘self-help’ type of shows as well as the shallowness of the series that aim to find love. Can we deny they are often trashy and dehumanizing? Well written stories about imperfect people, I would love to read a novel by Karin-Lin Greenburg. She writes about people who could actually exist, whose paths are a natural trajectory most of us confront. As for her teenage characters, they aren’t ridiculously maniacal but do behave as children who are trying to fit in and figure out who they are. Good stuff.

Publication Date: September 1, 2022

University of Nebraska Press

A Blind Corner: Stories by Caitlin Macy

That ease she had in setting boundaries, that joyful frankness that was a hallmark of her character, I attributed to her having grown up as a member of the elite in a country where it was abundantly clear who belonged to it- that is to say, an inherited elite that clung both tenaciously and effortlessly to its position.

The characters populating these stories are outsiders, even if they are a teenage girl gifted with intelligence on the cusp of a bright future or a mother who travels to Acapulco with her small children sans her elite friend, who cancels plans a week before their trip. Everyone is attempting to become something separate from themselves. In Nude House, Susanna, bright and biddable all her life, takes up with trouble when she starts fooling around with Andy, the town screwup. Maybe she just wanted a story to carry her through her days, but his problems are beyond his control. Blind Corner, tourists Alison and Tim Spalding are under Tuscany’s spell, imagining a life where their future children can thrive, in Italy. It isn’t long before Alison’s moral character is in direct conflict with the locals’ ways and then she has a little accident. Foreign places never seem to live up to the ideal, do they? Residents Only, a woman feels overwhelmed on a trip to Acapulco without her self-assured friend, Vero. She makes impulsive choices when leaving the safety of the condo she is staying at. Maybe it’s because she is at the end of her rope? She spends much of their vacation feeling inept, and naturally there are class issues between she and the maid.

The Taker, a woman wants to prove herself to be a good host, welcoming her friend’s ex-boyfriend Marcus, a stranger to she and her husband, for an eleven day stay. For once, she wants to be the accommodating sort, completely out of character to her true, private nature. Her husband and Marcus hit it off, like true bros, and suddenly she feels like the third wheel. How long will his welcome last? We Don’t Believe in That Crap: Two little girls, the “fresh start family” in their retired, older, military father’s second marriage get a taste of the way some people live with their mother’s visit to Ma Moore. Ma, the keeper of all sorts of strays, humans and animals, connected to their kind mother, Linda. When Linda asks Ma’s daughter, Tammy Moore, to babysit, the night goes awry. The Little Rats: Hannah isn’t sure why she accepted a meeting with the junior development officer of her old private school (she was on scholarship), Country Day. It takes her back to the “Hallmark Experience”, the trip to France, which her parents had secured (at the last minute) money for, and her fears of being matched with a ‘bottom of the barrel’ French girl. How much have times changed it the current politically current climate? It becomes a reminder of where she came from, despite her accomplishments.

The stories in this collection are clever, nothing explosive needs to happen. It is about class, entitlement, but not everyone is about being ‘one of us’. Characters are often well aware of how they appear to others, even if at times they are clueless to their snobbery. Women struggling with self-doubt, making rash decisions, so basically a lot like real life for many of us. It’s a genuine experience, sitting with their thoughts and weighing their actions. Yes, a good read.

Publication Date: June 21, 2022

Little, Brown and Company

Ghost Lover: Stories by Lisa Taddeo

Nothing worried me more than someone having to calculate my worth, and my having to watch them do it.

This collection of stories is filled with the thoughts and emotions often kept in check. As in Air Supply, from which I took the above quote, young friends take a trip to Puerto Rico, which ends up being more a story about ‘stupid young girls’. It is also about youth and it’s highs, how it feels when it fades, competitive friendship, and the measure of a woman, so often based on the male gaze. In fact, much of the book feels like women are always at the meat market. We talk a good game these days, but these snippets of raw honesty, desire and the erasure of pain only prove that women, good women (whatever that means) still throw themselves on the plate to be sliced and chewed up, even when they know better. They have sexual encounters because they are free, but often aren’t even interested in the particular guy they are with. They’re not supposed to get a bump (high) from men ogling them and yet it is confirmation of having something worth the attention. It’s superficial and yet, isn’t that how many women were taught to feel? Their friendship is a mess too, try as they might, one is always superior in small ways to the other.

Women are resigned to less, like Noni in Maid Marian, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still want, desperately. Noni had long ago resigned herself, her work, her future to Harry, who could never really be hers. Wasting years waiting for Harry to leave his wife, Helene, of course he will but she didn’t imagine another, Marian, glittering so brightly. Noni is forever in second place. Harry holds court, King over his domain and the women allow him to get away with it. Is it abusive, cruel if one schemes against themselves? What debasement is worse than of oneself?

Female desire isn’t necessarily ‘good for them’, nor does it always make sense. A woman can be brilliant, gorgeous, and still want the worse things for themselves. Women who have sex with unabashed freedom and yet still the mind factors in, can’t be shut off. Beautiful people are often at the forefront, but there is so much damage in these pages, and pain. Pain buried under self-deception and the theme could very well be, “We all need somebody to please.” Men here, no matter how lousy, are like a benevolent God whose attention shines upon you, but only for a brief moment before you are eclipsed by someone younger. Behold youth, everything is for those glittering girls. Older women misbehave, like Joan who likes younger men. She knows all about the hell it is to arrive looking good, once you’re a woman of a certain age. And arrive she must, audience for her lover’s wedding, to a much younger girl, Molly. The man, an actor named Jack, eases through women and doesn’t even give them much thought at all.

There are beautiful, important people and then the rest of us. Do beautiful women have to ‘settle’? Some don’t even want to raise their own child, like in Padua,1966. Women do scandalous things with bad men but how much of a thrill it can give others. What happens after the ruin? These are not sweet women, they are hungry for love, sex, and are often bitter, angry or just plain exhausted from all of it. Tired of the effort of being alive and steering their needs. It’s an ever changing perspective depending on their age, from youth to the slow decline. Sorting through the advice left to rot from mothers and fathers, figuring out their place in the world and its rules, because let’s face it, the world when you’re twenty isn’t going to be the same when you’re sliding into 40. Who are you to be, when men want either an ‘untouched angel’ or someone ‘deeply damaged’? There is often self-hate, of course there is, when ‘these day women had to be a million things’. One line made me wince, ‘A successful man was better perceived if he had an ugly wife.’ That’s a loaded sentence, oh boy, and I get exactly what she means.

Engaging, sometimes shocking, penetrating- I wonder how younger people will read these stories. It’s often interesting to me how we perceive women like the ones in this book. Some of the stories are like sandpaper on your skin, a bit unsettling. That makes interesting writing.

Publication Date: June 14, 2022 Available TODAY

Avid Reader Press

Simon & Schuster

Impossible Naked Life: Stories by Luke Rolfes

The need for connection and human contact is strong, my wife said, and it has caught both of them, like kittens by the scruff of their necks.

For such short stories, several made me emotional, particularly Palestine Boy. What wall is greater than the one he, and his extended family (so far from where he lives), face? There are smart, funny tales beginning with the very first, as Leonard (a hermit crab), meets his gruesome end. Sometimes silly but often grounded, the tales are of pain, struggle, failure, need.

Characters are visitors in the lives of their lovers, there are happy little birds flying around death, and lonely strangers connecting on a train. A tornado threatens as a couple and their child cower, wailing for different reasons. This is a collection about ordinary people, those who might cheer for a T-Rex instead of humans, couples who see their love die in a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by beautiful people, and kids who are diving to the bottom of a ball pit where there may or may not be a dead girl. People confront realities that are nothing new, but to the person going through it, can feel life altering, even if it’s ‘a tired story’. Red Line moved me, it’s beautiful that in a city where you think you are invisible you are seen, saved.

Sometimes you need flash fiction to pull you through your longer days. I am hoping Luke Rolfes writes a novel.

Published March 8, 2022

Kallisto gai Press

Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members’ Titles

How Strange A Season by Megan Mayhew Bergman

“A lady is the last thing I want for her to be!” her mother yelled back. “What good did it do for me?”

This collection of stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman is about what we drag around, our broken love lives, our damaged families, our history. It’s about needful hearts, negotiations between partners, the deepest lows and highest of highs. The struggle with self-worth, feeling like an imposter in one’s own life and building walls or terrariums to control the only things one can. More importantly there are stories of mistakes and lost chances.

In Workhorse, a divorcée makes large scale plant installations after buying a boutique floral business from the money her mother left her. Stuck dealing with her father, who is planning his return home to Sardinia and has always steamrolled his family with his large personality and needs, she wants space, to make her own choices, to live a creative life. He feels she just wants him gone. Disappointed by her ex and his addiction, things get more challenging, not less. In Wife Days, Farrah grows up watching her mother and grandmother butt heads about how her mother is raising her. Structure versus a non-traditional, bohemian life, when all she wants is to be underwater, cutting a path swimming. Even if she knows she is an invasive species in the river. In adulthood, she is married to a ‘fresh, very controlled person’ living the privileged life in a McMansion. Is she happy? What happened during her messy years? Other stories are about having control, the upper hand, as in one tale a woman uses her mother’s Earth House to help people release rage by crushing things. She also ponders the cycles of leaving and staying. My favorite story was Inheritance where the main character, Hayes, inherits her grandmother’s glass house in California, perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. Having admired her grandmother, Paulina’s, courage to shuck expectations and make her own terms of existence (leaving Hayes’s mother behind in the process) she only now begins to see that she may not have known her at all. Is the future a comfort, where everything remains unknown, or does dwelling in the past, with all its familiar devils, make for a more content world?

There are stories about the ecosystem like in A Taste For Lionfish and the destruction they cause but also human failure as the character signs up to fill time after the end of a relationship. There is an orchard in Peaches where a woman sacrifices her own future happiness for family who may not give a damn about salvation. Kin that feel like a lost cause, it’s so bad her mother even thinks her own son could be the strangler. Land called Stillwood where misfortune seems to shadow the people like a curse, it is a former plantation and all that implies. Here love feels more like entrapment. Pregnancy begets marriage, a child is born and depression follows. The wife/mother ends up in a sanatorium while her husband finds a small measure of happiness with the wet nurse (who has her own baby to attend to), finally feels like Stillwood is rightfully his, until she returns. The little girl, Skip, grows up wild in spirit like her mother and conflicted about who her loyalty should be with. She has, essentially, two mothers. It is a life of betrayal, loss, and self-lies. Stillwood feels like an evil place, the wet nurse always felt it too and the river, the river holds secrets. This story is the longest and reads like a novel, rich in characters. People who fear they are living under punishment for the things their ancestors have done yet unable or unwilling to free themselves. The final story is about a hag, cousin of Eve. A being who calls the winds to howl for her suffering.

It’s a good read, an intelligent exploration on love, what we owe it. Make no mistake, it’s about how love is measured, particularly in women. How uneven all variety of partnerships are. Why does affection seem to rely on what others are getting out of you? Here, people are affirming their love and loyalty, burying their happiness for others, often settling, or rebelling against tradition and often suffering for it. They bear the weight of the past, usually in the form of bloodlines and family demands. It sometimes did feel like the author is serving up revenge and punishment for the sins of the past, a history that descendants didn’t have a hand in yet seem doomed for. Still, it was engaging and smart.

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Scribner

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century: Stories by Kim Fu

The realm of pretend had only just closed its doors to us, and light still leaked around the edges.

Kim Fu’s collection of stories takes turns of freakish oddity and yet is often an emotional touch. Tales of ordinary people dealing with abnormal situations, one in particular involving a bug infestation (which made my skin crawl) not as unlikely as we imagine. Moments that make people question things that are happening, all their peculiar patterns. Tales of loss and the intense grief that follows, memories and moments you can’t get back. Accidents, denial. The telling isn’t overly fantastical magical realism, but just on the edge of eerie, believable.

In the first tale the character wants to be with their deceased mother in a simulation, hungering for a small ordinary encounter, only to be disappointed by limitations. In the second, Liddy First To Fly, girls who are growing apart bond with the secret of their friend’s winged legs. Is she meant to fly away or can she be normal again? A woman chases “nourishing” sleep in Sandman, welcoming a monster to fill every hollow within. Twenty Hours is brutal, as a married couple adds excitement to their life with a special printer. It’s also a macabre play on how we hurt those we love and ourselves. How with each transgression we get closer to the ugliest side of ourselves. There was a catch in my throat when Connie, the wife, wakes up in the printer tray and her spouse thinks about the questions she isn’t asking. Despite the brutal endings they put each other through, again and again, there is tenderness. It also is about the great void that still exists between partners, places within’ the other we can never go. Our desire to return to one another at war with our need to be separate. It’s my favorite story. The Doll is creepy, yet it begins as a sad tragedy, one of those ‘thank god it didn’t happen to us, but it could have’ that neighbors are left to stew over. The neighborhood children are forced to confront the mean whims of fate and yet there is something exciting too about the house, daring each other to enter it, being scared. But can a doll be haunted? There is a touch of erotica in Scissors (an apt title), as women take to the stage for a show in a cabaret style theater. Dominance and surrender, the thrill of not knowing what will happen, the electric threat of danger, the ‘flinch’ of the audience. A question of trust.

Every tale is original, a reluctant bride and a sea monster, the loss of taste and how one woman finds a way to experience the sensation bodily… more than anything the tales are about how people cope after their lives have been upended by strange twists and turns. Loneliness, longing, grief, fear, love- quite an interesting collection.

Publication Date: February 1, 2022

Tin House

You Never Get It Back by Cara Blue Adams

I have given everything at the wrong time, to the wrong people, she thinks.

This collection of connected stories is a journey into Kate’s life, as she finds place and meaning whether in the lush countryside, mountains, city or the desert. In college, Kate is the ‘disadvantaged’ friend juggling her course load for a career as a research scientist. Just moving towards a future different from the life her mother lives, wishing to be something else, as so many young women do. The past, through pivotal moments in her life, feels far away but it never is. She spends much of her early years waiting for life to happen, and when she makes choices about leaving, she wonders what staying would have meant, could have changed, particularly in love relationships. How do we get from one place to another, so far away from where we began? Her sister Agnes and mother seem to live in their own world, one she can’t help but judge- having grown up without much money after her parents’ divorce, Kate can only worry the trouble she imagines her sister’s future will be based on the choices she makes. Choices that are similar to their own mother’s, a college drop out, married young, divorced, struggling to pay bills and raise her daughters.

Each story provides glimpses into her life and the places she lives, deserts, countryside lend just as much feeling as the people who move through her. The two stories that moved me most were Charity and Seeing Clear. Although much of the stories focus on relationships with men she has loved or failed to love enough, it is the revelations about her mother and father that made me understand Kate and her troubled sister Agnes more. In Charity, I got the feeling they are the children of the black sheep in her mother’s family. There is also the resentment of not having enough, the expectations of family who don’t seem to understand your struggles, or is it simply her mother has decided to think a certain way and that’s that? Yes, the burn of class division is often felt most within one’s own family. In Seeing Clear, the reader understands even more the weight of Kate’s sadness, what made her strive for college as a means of lifting her out of unhappiness. Those two stories, for me, were the heaviest. Her fears of marriage and many choices make sense. How she worries about her sister and thinks she knows best, maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t.

It’s a story of coming into oneself, because we are always coming of age, with every experience, trying to understand our lives, all the choices and each other. Of course there are struggles, so much goes awry, it is easy to mess up even when we’re trying to be good. This is quiet novel but, for me at least, easy to relate to and engaging.

Publication Date: December 15, 2021

University of Iowa Press

Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories by Lily King

Soon Paula would begin complaining that he didn’t understand her, didn’t appreciate her, didn’t love her enough, when in fact he loved her so much his heart often felt shredded by it. But people always wanted words for all that roiled inside you.

Lily King’s story collection she has created characters who sort through complicated emotions, feelings that roil and sometimes settle so deep they just can’t be expressed easily to others. People are left behind, children live in the remains of broken marriages, social class divisions shadow moments, but too there is the thrill of teens on the verge of young adulthood. Sometimes kids are dealing with situations too heavy for the young, wanting to be rid of their parents while longing to fold themselves into their love at the same time.

In the first story, Creature, teenager Carol is hired as a live in babysitter for the wealthy Pike family. Living in the enormous mansion she plays at independence from her parents fighting, tries to forget the small apartment she and her mother live in and can loosen her worries over the problems of her father. With the romantic novel Jane Eyre occupying space in her mind, and making her own money, she’s ripe for “trying things out”. When Hugh arrives, order is disrupted and things get exciting. How much of a grown up education can she handle?

Five Winters in Tuesday a single father, bookseller Mitchell finds more life inside his books than in other people. His daughter Paula longs for him to be more involved, kinder with their customers but it is Kate, his employee, that brings more life into the store. Paula finds a friend in her, a woman who can help her with things no girl wants to turn to their father for, she fills the void her absent mother left in her wake. Can Mitchell change, should he?

When in Dordogne it is the summer of 1986 and a boy distant from his much older parents forms a close bond with the two young men hired to care for him while his parents head to France to help his father ‘get better’ from what ails him. Through the antics of Ed and Grant, their teasing and joy, he falls in love with a brotherhood he has never had. If only they could stay forever.

North Sea Oda takes her daughter Hanne to an island on the North Sea but it is costing her money she doesn’t really have after her husband Fritz’s death. Neither of them wanted the vacation, and yet here they are, miserable. If only they could stop pushing each other away and grieve over Hanne’s father, tend to their deep loss. Hanne isn’t willing to share her joys with her mother, the two drifting apart. Oda is stunned by the circumstances her husband left them in, helpless to change anything. Will they comfort one another? Other stories follow, each as engaging as the last. People aching through the vanishings of loved ones, turns and splits of fate, reeking with disasters love causes, be it with a partner or family. Stories about Motherhood and how it dominates every crevice of your life, the struggling desire to create while consumed by caring for others. The story that touched me the most, left a lump of feeling in my throat, was Waiting for Charlie. An aging grandfather visits his granddaughter at the hospital bedside after a terrible accident, one that has left her body in ruins. They are now, in a sense, alike- unfairly. It’s such a short story but it ripped my heart out. Lily King writes about the storms of our emotions, so often impossible to understand and find direction when you’re in the midst of it. Well done.

Published November 9, 2021

Grove Atlantic

What Isn’t Remembered: Stories by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

The sounds of their shovels and pickaxes shook the dumb earth and my mother’s shoulders.

This is a gorgeous collection, some stories sink in your gut and claw their way up to your heart, forcing you to attend to sorrow. Her sentences shook my shoulders, highlighting moving passages, grieving for lost innocence and the death of hope. I had a strange moment when I thought ‘wait, this book isn’t out yet, why do I remember this story’- only to realize I had read it in a collection of authors and had loved it, even though the deep sadness was a shock to the system. I also just finished Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s forthcoming novel The Orchard (coming March 2022), just as engaging as her short story collection. The characters are fleshy to the point they could be sitting next to you in a bar, reminiscing with others who have emigrated from Russia about their homeland, trying to define the lives they are now living. Stuck in between places and identities, neither whole in one country or the other forced to confront not just assimilation into a new culture but resentment by family left behind for being ‘too American’. There are still others in their homeland, burying a son, brother- discovering that no matter how voracious one’s appetite for life, how hard they fight for themselves, there is cruelty lurking, ready to snuff out the fiery of us all. Yet, even the dead have their mysteries, ‘little’ surprises, they leave behind- a breath of life for a grieving mother who couldn’t get close enough to her son in life.

It’s a push and pull for better a better existence, but often it’s acceptance that you are nothing but a fossil already, trapped by the choices others have made or worse, by those that govern your country. Countries where ‘suffering overrules pleasures’ which is gold for literary classics (especially Russian) but hell on the actual living citizens. It is learning that even friendship has its deceptions, not all secrets can be told, and the dead don’t talk- all the little slips, the alarming truths you failed to act upon will travel with you forever. That when you could have been salvation for your dearest friend you instead became worse than the enemy and landed far more brutal blows than the abuser. Not everyone gets out alive, gets to grow up and realize their dreams. What about those that do? Well, they aren’t always fully living in the present, marked as they are by shame and guilt unable to comprehend their own stories nor the losses. There are many aches of betrayal, but when it’s between friends, our sounding boards, champions, those who often sustain us, it too is a death. The structure of a life can change with one act, even messy mistakes.

Roots pulling us back or being severed, the passage of time on body and mind, the struggles of acculturation, the horror and beauty of putting the dead to rest and returning, always returning to the people and land we left behind. The language of our ancestors, their merciless past, is one that must never be forgotten. How hard it is to embrace our father/mother’s sorrows, how impossible to ignore. Perestroika is mentioned in this author’s work, a generation grew up during the political movement, and I understand more about it now that I’ve read her writing therefore, the tale Heroes of Our Time really brings home the generational differences of suffering. The desires aren’t really much different, though the burdens cannot be measured, everyone wants to cling to life, to find some joy and pleasure to the very end. It’s a charming tale, the entire collection is not all misery, some of the telling is bittersweet. I adore this line, while a young man is on the hunt to fulfill the last wish of sorts for his dying grandfather, he says “I felt sorry for him, for the ridiculousness of his desire, and the stupidity of my own actions.” It tickled me, his idea that an old persons’ desires are ridiculous- ah the blindness of youth.

Of course, every story was glorious to me, because Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s sentences truly are lyrical and swept me away into the lives that are the heart of the collection. “The novels are living things, Girl insists” in Simple Song #9 and it’s true of this book too. Sometimes we find a writer that just flows perfectly with what moves us. I don’t know if it’s the influences over my life (my father and grandparents emigrated from Hungary) having felt, though American born, split between cultures but I know for a fact that there is displacement when you start a life elsewhere. That you are always living with pieces of yourself scattered, that you cannot replace your history no matter where you land. Your children will carry it in their blood, that thing that sets you apart. It’s about culture and displacement but so much more. Courage, fragility, loyalty, perception, fight, surrender… what a writer! I can’t even express how much the stories made my heart ache, how much I loved the people, even those who seem bitter or lost. They are all walking contradictions, most people are. Neither completely good/bad, just stumbling like we all do in the fog of life. Yes, read this author!

Published September 1, 2021

University of Nebraska Press