by Amanda Eyre Ward
The settings of the stories in Amanda Eyre Ward’s stellar collection, Love Stories in This Town, range all over the map of the United States — Austin, Georgia, Montana, San Francisco — but the main characters, all women, share one salient characteristic: they’re looking for something. For some it’s a sense of belonging somewhere, anywhere. For others it’s enduring love, or motherhood, or security or professional success. Each of Ward’s protagonists feels that there’s something basic missing in her life — a hole in her world. Whether it’s Kimmy, moving to Texas with her husband two days after a miscarriage (“The Stars are Bright in Texas”); Mimi (“Shakespeare.com”) working for a startup company aimed at bringing Shakespeare to the masses; or the six linked stories about ten years in the life of Lola Wilkerson, all these stories are moving and insightful; the dialogue is pitch perfect. I finished reading each of these stories wishing that Ward would expand every one into a novel, so I could spend more time with the characters.
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by Antonya Nelson
Antonya Nelson’s splendid short story collection, Nothing Right (Bloomsbury, 2009), gives you a complete picture of her particular writerly talents: a sense of the absurd, a deep respect for her characters, and the skill to bring those characters to vivid life. Two of Nelson’s great strengths are her astonishing insights into human behavior and her remarkable talent for giving us three–dimensional characters in just a sentence or two. Both are on full display in every story in this collection. I think we know nearly everything there is to know about Sadie, the main character in the story “DWI,” from this: “As was the case with most new experiences, therapy ended up resembling school: vocabulary, irksome effort, anxiety, tests, and failure. Would anything ever not seem like some new set of lessons Sadie would neglect to learn?” In “Or Else,” she describes Telluride, Colorado this way: “At night, the stars devastated the clear, clear sky.” I was simply stunned by how perfect the verb in that sentence is. Everyone will have a particular story, or two, or three that most appeals — but I would definitely recommend the title story about a teenage father and his divorced mother, as well as “Kansas,” and “Falsetto.” Fans of Lorrie Moore’s short stories will not want to miss getting acquainted with Nelson’s fiction, both short and long. And don’t miss Nelson’s older but still wonderful Living to Tell, one of my favorite character–driven novels.
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