Smokin’ story collections!

by | Jun 1, 2014 | Book review | 4 comments

Short story collections have enriched my reading lately. What strikes me most about the books I’ve read is how creative the authors—or in the case of one anthology, the authors and editors—were in framing their projects. It’s not just writing style that distinguishes some of these works; it’s also the concepts behind the books themselves.

I’m talking about Sleeping with the Gods by Jean Wong; Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls by Susanna Solomon; Times They Were a Changing edited by Kate Farrell, Linda Joy Myers and Amber Lea Starfire; Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish; and The Wrong Sister by Caroline Leavitt.

Here are my thoughts on each:

Sleeping with the Gods

41VHqa61UEL._SS300_Many of us read about the ancient gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome in Bulfinch’s Mythology, a book that was required reading for middle and/or high school students. (I don’t know if it still is required but perhaps my friend Lysle and other educators can weigh in on that in comments to this post.) Jean Wong shakes up those deities of old and throws them into the 21st century to great effect. She selected nine gods or goddesses and used each as a point of departure for a story. The deities have contemporary personas and become deeply involved with unsuspecting humans. The results are stunning. The stories take us to various locales around the world, giving Wong a chance to subtly demonstrate not only her knowledge of the gods and goddesses, but also her ability to convey the flavor of different cultures. The biggest thing on display in this collection, though, is Wong’s wild imagination. Sleeping with the Gods is cohesive, surprising, slightly disconcerting—a delight to read.

Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls

41ue8nc1R9L._SS300_Occasionally, I’ll come across a book with a premise I love so much I wish I’d thought of it myself. Such is the case with Pt. Reyes Sheriff’s Calls by Susanna Solomon. Her inspiration was the Sheriff’s Calls section of the Point Reyes Light, a newspaper covering the goings on in rural West Marin County, California. She selected entries from June 2011 through December 2012 (for example, TOMALES: At 8:20 p.m. a woman said she saw a car full of costumed people, possibly burglars, on her ranch” and “NICASIO: At 4:40 p.m. a baby dialed 911”) and used each to create a story. What she wound up writing is a series of interrelated tales that create a fictional realm so quirky, intriguing and appealing, I wanted to drive there in my Ford Escape and stay for a long visit. These stories sparkle with life; they combine humor, depth and compassion; they are deeply affecting and memorable.

Times They Were a Changing

I know I’ve stumbled upon a rich reading experience when long after I’ve put the book down, it comes to mind from time to time. I read Times They Were a Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s months ago and enjoyed the anthology in its entirety and, yes, it reached my heart. A combination of prose and poetry, the 48 works included are all personal, vivid and compelling accounts of aspects of life for women living in the 60s and 70s. As someone who came of age during that era, the book is a potent reminder of the promise and turmoil; the victories and strife; the music, the costumes; the love, love, love that was in the air. And there is something strong and solid, yet gentle, about the language of the book and the messages it contains. The memoir that keeps drifting into my mind is “Altamont” by Amber Lea Starfire. I wish I could say what it is about that particular one that struck me so deeply—perhaps it was because as a teen I slipped into many a car packed with friends (as Amber did) and went on adventures that changed me, but usually not in the ways I expected. I believe there is enough variety in this book—edited by Kate Farrell, Linda Joy Myers and Amber Lea Starfire—that there will be selections that deeply affect just about everyone interested in this period in history.

Our Love Could Light the World

51Y5+2PYW5L._SS300_The thing that binds together the stories of Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish is that they are all about one family, the Dugans. The parents’ divorce is a catalyst that causes upheaval, pain and ultimately growth for them and their five children. Now, that sentence could describe just about any family going through divorce, but this is not a generic tale. The particulars of this dysfunctional and not particularly likeable brood are fascinating enough to engage and keep a reader’s interest. I wanted to know every detail about them as I read. However, for me, this book was ultimately not satisfying as a short story collection. I think it would have worked better had the writer decided to shape it into a novel. The parts of the whole might stand alone. I don’t know. I read them one after another in rapid succession, and they seemed like chapters in a book that didn’t quite come together.

The Wrong Sister

28---Medium_image_resized_200x320The Wrong Sister: Stories by Caroline Leavitt is an ebook consisting of two short stories. Nothing connects the stories except their author. And what a fine author she is. Her characters are complicated and uniquely flawed in ways that makes them intriguing. I felt like I was drawn deep inside the families at the center of each story. A young man enters the lives of two sisters in the first story, The Wrong Sister, and the drama unfolds seamlessly to a surprising conclusion. The second story, The Last Vacation, which explores a daughter’s relationships with her parents, also unfolds seamlessly to a surprising conclusion, one that I found especially poignant. The characters I met on these pages seem like real folks whose paths just haven’t happened to cross with mine.

51vA42tlbhL._SS300_Thinking about these books makes me want to write and publish another collection of stories someday. The elements that connect the stories in The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song, which I published in 2012, are that they’re all flash fiction and I wrote them over the course of a year, posting one per week on this blog. I don’t have any ideas yet about what the concept behind a new collection could be. I also have projects on my plate right now (an anthology on sisterhood and a sequel to Reversible Skirt) that will keep my publishing calendar full for the next year or so.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, here’s a link to a page containing these reviews on Amazon, where you can purchase them with a few clicks.

One more thing. A mini memoir I wrote is posted on Sonia Marsh’s My Gutsy Story website. I’d appreciate it if you’d hop on over there, read my story, and, if you get there before June 11, 2014, vote for my story. She runs a contest each month for the readers’ favorite story. If I win, I’ll get to pick a prize from those offered by a list of site sponsors.


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  1. wordwranglingwoman

    Just wanted to say that it was a delight to edit Sleeping with the Gods. The stories were compelling. Jean was unique in her approach. Each one was like unwrapping a lush candy and savoring the taste. Patrice

  2. admin

    Thanks, Patrice. I can see how it would have been rewarding to work with Jean on editing her collection.

  3. Barbara Toboni

    Thanks for your informative reviews, Laura. Regarding I have to say my teachers missed the boat on that mythology book. I never read Bulfinch’s Mythology. Maybe I should start there before reading “Sleeping with the Gods.” I did read “The Times they were A Changing.” That was excellent. As far as voting for your Gutsy Story, I did that. It was easy. Good read. I don’t know if I could move to another country like you did, although it does seem like you had no choice but to do something drastic. What an experience!

  4. admin

    Thanks for your comment, Barbara. I did hear from my friend Lysle via private message, who teaches middle school students. She said Bulfinch’s hasn’t been assigned for ages, and probably never was assigned much to the middle school age group. I remember having to read it somewhere along the line. It was probably in high school. I’d look at reviews on Amazon and ask around before purchasing a book on mythology. … Thanks for voting for my story too. I didn’t actually establish residence abroad. I traveled around Europe and North Africa for about four months. Then I returned to the United States and hitchhiked around Canada and the U.S. for several months. It was a wonderful experience.

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