Published: October 1, 2014
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 / 5
Recommended for readers who are open to a collection of experimental styles.
Winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award, Heather A. Slomski’s debut story collection takes loss as its primary subject and holds it up to the light. In prose spare and daring, poised yet startling, these stories take shape in reality, but reality, they sometimes show us, is not a separate realm from the fantastic or the surreal. Two couples meet for dinner to acknowledge an affair. A mannequin recalls a lover and the life she mysteriously lost. Two girls observe a young widow’s grief through a café window. A man’s hat is as discerning as Cinderella’s shoe.
In the fifteen stories that comprise this collection—some short as breaths, two of them novelettes—Slomski writes with a keen eye about relationships. About the desires that pull us together and the betrayals that push us apart. About jealousy, obsession, loneliness and regret—the byproducts of loving someone that keep us awake at night.
The characters in these stories share meals, drink wine, buy furniture and art. They live domestic lives, so often wanting to love someone yet ending up alone. In one story, a woman’s fiancé leaves her when she goes to post some mail. In another story, a man can’t move past an affair his wife almost had. Another story describes a series of drawings to detail a couple’s end. But while loss and heartache pervade these stories, there is also occasional hope. For, as the title story shows us, sometimes a breakup isn’t an end at all, but the beginning of your life.
I've recently become a fan of short story collections--I can read a story a day or every two days and feel like I've been able to savor it. On the flip side, I sometimes find them hard to review--do we review it in parts or as a whole? It depends on the books, but in this case I think it is best to look at the stories as a whole.
These are not "feel good" romances, which is what one might expect from the title. Instead, they are more like what happens after "happily ever after" or when real life invades our romantic dreams. I think that the short story format works very well with such themes. Slomski is able to tell her story with just enough plot and detail to convey her point, but she never runs into the danger of become too maudlin over the frustrated lovers.
There is a very "experimental" feel about this collection. Some stories are a page long, others a few pages, and a couple border on novellas. Scene and narration style change between each story, yet Slomski uses theme to tie everything together. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite story. I would really love to read "Neighbors" developed as a novel and the first story, "The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons" was very visual and read almost like a scene from a movie. I found the final story, "Before the Story Ends" especially heartbreaking because, sadly, I could relate to it.
As much as I enjoyed this collection, I hesitate to say that it is something I would universally recommend. As I said, the stories feel experimental, which is something I think people who are just "looking for a book to read" might not appreciate. While I appreciate authors pushing the boundaries a bit, I know that some readers may have problems with that. However, I would readily give this title to anyone looking for a fresh new voice in short fiction.
I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.