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Posts Tagged ‘story collections’

I was tidying my shelves this week in order to fit in a couple of used bookstore purchases from a recent trip to Arizona and came across a short story collection I hadn’t yet read, This Close by Jessica Francis Kane. I have to admit I can’t exactly recall how this book came to be on my shelves — possibly it was on a free cart, or a purchase at the Five Colleges Book Sale. At any rate, it looked good so I decided to give it a try.

This Close is a story collection, with a few stand-alone and two sets of linked stories. Many of the stories deal with someone young who we meet again as their older self. Parent-child relationships, especially with grown children, also feature prominently in this collection. Loss is a strong theme — not only of loved ones through death or divorce but also loss of health, loss of control, loss of pride.

The narratives are simple — a mother and her young son preparing for a yard sale, a woman grieving her daughter who can’t stay away from a drugstore where they’d had an unsettling encounter with a stranger, a daughter hosting a surprise birthday dinner for her father. But they often feature an odd twist — in the opening story, a young man in New York ends up looking after a small boy whose mother and grandmother run his neighborhood dry cleaner’s because he can’t figure out how to say no. A woman who prides herself on her skillful driving hits a parked car. Neither is entirely implausible but Kane explores what happens when our attempts to live an orderly life go awry.

The language in This Close is simple, without wasted words. Nothing overwrought, nor especially beautiful or lyrical, and yet, in these ordinary lives and plain words, Kane seems to expose the fragility of being human. To me that is really a sign of good writing, when straightforward language still manages to move or transport the reader. Her characters are sometimes stuck or caught being with people they don’t really want to be with, they hurt each other or themselves, they stumble and suffer and struggle or they just get carried along by life’s events rather than the other way around. Interestingly, even though all of this is painful, Kane’s stories didn’t make me cringe or feel like they were exposing too much or ripping off a bandaid.

If you enjoy short fiction, this is a good read.

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