Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis — 320 pgs


Book CoverA young girl deals with the mysterious disappearance of her quiet and secretive father, learning along the way that he was not what he seemed. A woman speculates on her husband's affair, going so far as to try to confront the wrong woman. A trio of friends living together go through a strange metamorphosis of relationship when one suddenly leaves. An adult daughter returns home to a father who can't recognize her. These are just a few of the fourteen stories that make up the eclectic and thoughtful collection Vanishing by Deborah Willis. Sparse yet satisfying, these stories render their subjects lives in miniature and peddle between the past and the present to deftly intertwine the sudden joys of life and the unexpected sadness that can so change the way life is lived.

I haven't read many short story collections in the past few years, though that has not stopped me from collecting them! I sometimes find it hard to really get into a book of short stories because there just isn't room in them for the kind of character growth and reflection that I so appreciate in the novels I read. I like to see characters change and I like to see the situations they are living amongst and decipher how these situations affect their behavior. This is something that you don't usually get to experience in short stories. To me, short stories are more like a snapshot of a static moment in a character's life: not moving forward or looking backward, only a picture of this very moment. This is not the case here, and as I became more and more enmeshed in the collection, I grew to appreciate it more and more.

First off, Willis does something that I haven't seen before in short stories: she vacillates between the past and the present. In most of her stories, the story shifts between the action taking place today and what has happened in the past that makes the story so resonant. I really liked this technique and felt it gave the stories a lot of fullness and relevance. I liked that these stories were imbued with two types of texture, both the framework of the past and the more fluid present sections. I felt that writing them this way also had the effect of making the stories seem more robust, as though they encompassed more material and time. I think the best example of this technique came in the story Remember, Relive, a story that explores both the unique relationships among a family and what they have morphed into over time.

Another thing that makes this collection unique is that Willis is able to tell full-bodied stories in her short fiction. Nothing is static here. There is dramatic action and character growth, as well as climaxes and denouements. I think she is able to achieve this due to her ability to tell a story rather sparsely, yet fit in all the hallmarks of a good tale. Her language is not flashy and she doesn't spend a lot of time on pointless description and internal thought processes. Instead, she sets her stage and puts her characters through their paces, letting them encounter life and each other with wonderful results. These stories all have a beginning, middle and end, and because of that they feel more weighty than their page space should allow.

I should also mention that these stories are narrated by characters with varying sexes, ages and circumstances, and each voice is genuine and believable. Whether she is writing as an aging cowboy, a confused teenage girl or a woman being betrayed, Willis' voice never falters. I think it's a pretty amazing thing to make so many characters sound so convincing, especially considering the fact that their time onstage is so brief. I actually think the male characters were my favorite to read about because Willis managed to make her males seem sensitive yet tough and they seemed like the type of people that I could or should know. I also think she did very well with her teenage characters. They were at once rebellious yet vulnerable and insecure. Another thing that I admired was the fact that she consistently matched each character to their ideal setting and plot. Seeing these characters in the right places really made these stories shine.

This is a collection that deals with the more quiet and somber emotions, and there is a great gravity to all of these stories that I really enjoyed. Though I haven't kept up with short stories for the last few years, I greatly enjoyed this book and think that Willis is a very interesting talent. I think this collection would be great for those who are voracious readers of short story collections and those that are new to the genre. It would also be perfect for those that are a bit rusty. If I had to describe these stories in just a couple of words, I would say they were unexpectedly satisfying and they are short enough that a reader can dip in and out of the book with ease. A very unique collection, recommended.

About The Author

Deborah Willis’s work has appeared in the Bridport Prize Anthology, Event, and Grain, and she was a winner of PRISM International‘s annual fiction prize. Short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, Vanishing and Other Stories is her first book of fiction.

Visit Deborah at her website.

TLC Book Tours I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour and want to extend a warm thanks to them for sending me the book to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these sites:

Tuesday, August 17th:Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, August 18th:Eleanor’s Trousers
Tuesday, August 24th:The Lost Entwife
Thursday, August 26th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, August 30th:All About {n}
Wednesday, September 1st:In the Next Room
Tuesday, September 7th:she reads and reads
Wednesday, September 8th:Cozy Little House
Monday, September 13th:Rundpinne
Tuesday, September 14th:Confessions of a Bookaholic
Wednesday, September 15th:Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, September 21st:Library Queue

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

12 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I'm starting to appreciate short stories more and more, so I'm making a note of this collection. I like that they're tied together by a theme.

Trisha said...

I recently received this book for review as well but haven't had the chance to read it yet, so I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

Steph said...

I always think it's nice when short story collections manage to have a good deal of variety in the voices of the characters but still coalesce into something that is coherent when read together. I find that when I'm reading a collection where all of the stories superficially involve the same characters/situations/voice I get bored and wonder why the author didn't just write a novel instead.

Amy said...

I haven't read many short story collections either. I'm really glad you liked this one, it sounds lovely.

Jenny said...

These sound really good! I have this to review as well so I look forward to it now. (Not that I didn't before but now I really do, lol)

Suko said...

Zibilee, I read this post yesterday and wrote a comment but then it was "lost", so I am back to repeat myself.
Your review is well written and thorough, as usual.

I enjoy short story collections from time to time. This one sounds excellent. I am (sort of) in the middle of two collections right now, one be Helen Simpson, and one by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

I'm not usually a fan of short story collections but I have to admit that a review like yours makes me really want to pick this one up!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Amy said...

I really enjoy short stories but don't read them as much as I would like. I want to change that and Deborah Willis' collection sounds fantastic!
I really enjoyed your review and your description of the unique and varied ways Willis wrote these stories.

Thank you!
~ Amy

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I'm not a big fan of short stories. I do have this book sitting on my shelf, and I will be picking it up soon. Great post!

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I hadn't heard of this collection previously. Thanks for the great review.

Darlene said...

Wow, this really sounds good although I'm not one for short stories. I like full length because it gives me time to get to know everyone and really experience the story. I may have to give short stories another go- we'll see.

Nymeth said...

I've also been neglecting short story collections horribly for the past few years :\ I'll keep this one in mind!

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