This is the first short story collection that I’ve read in two years. It’s not that I don’t like the format, it’s just that sometimes I feel that short stories give me just a taste when I want the whole bowl. It’s hard for me to come to know a character in such a short span of pages, only to be pulled out of their world when the story ends, always too abruptly for my liking. This isn't Krasne’s style. Instead of giving the reader just a taste, she fills her pagespace to the brim, and just when you think the story is over, she tackles it from another angle until all sides are revealed. These interconnected stories, along with the standalones, didn’t leave me hungry for more but instead left me satisfied and full of warmth, and dare I say, sadness.
A third of this book is given over to the life of Alice. Alice is young and unsure of herself, but she knows that her mother is a jealous and possessive woman who, it's later revealed, will justify anything that she does in an attempt to get what she wants. The juvenile Alice finds that her only solace is to retreat and to become passive-aggressive, but as she ages and sees what her mother and father truly are, she comes away from each encroachment stronger and more able to manipulate her own feelings into a sort of reason that defies the pain of her youth. She is loving and caring, but her parents and even her brother feed off of this to provide her with fresh guilt and powerlessness, relegating her to an inferior position that she carefully examines, steps away from, and disowns. It’s hard to read about the neglect and the emotional coldness of her family, but Alice doesn’t dwell on the negative: She finds the solution, while still fully realizing that they are all pitiable creatures.
In the ensuing chapters, Krasne transitions beautifully to short stories that feel like whole and complete sketches that capture both a time and a place under a magnifying glass. The first story is called “At the Algonquin,” and while it tells the tale of a cabaret singer who is recognized on a train many years after her career has ended, underneath it evokes feelings of loss, failed attempts at second chances, and what the heart must face when it settles. it's a story that I read slowly, with a lump in my throat, for all the clues are there if one only looks. “Re-unions” tells the story of a woman picking up a man in a bar for a one night stand, but of course there’s more to it than that: The aching longing of a friendship that seems true but is only one of convenience, the timeless fact that friends grow apart and that they can be manipulated so easily, even when it's not intended. Her stories are like mirages. you look once and see something; yes, there is definitely something there, but then it morphs into something else entirely.
The last story was called “Stopping Time,” and this one broke my heart. When a cancer diagnosis is given to a woman who was once so vital and strong, she retreats into herself and into her mind. Her lover cannot help her and neither can her daughter. it's a series and litany of regret that marches through her mind, and the only thing she can do is what she’s always done: capture it on film so that she can know her own boundaries, and know that this is her final showdown with the camera. Only she isn't the photographer, but the subject, and to her grieving daughter there must be some closure. It was a bleak and heartbreaking story, but one that didn’t overwhelm the reader with maudlin sentiments as most stories like this would have. It was written in a hand that can feel the pressure of heartache but not the overbearing grief that accompanies it. It was brilliant, and when I closed the book, I felt the release of the photographer’s soul slip out of the pages.
If there was ever a short story collection to recommend, this is the one. it's a character driven set, and each character deals with her burdens in a very different yet entrancing way. If there is more from this author in the future, I will be reading it, for her tales took me by surprise and though they were sad, they offered no melancholy or inner turmoil. Just grace. Plain and simple.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.