Squinting Over Water
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Each story has a vitality of its own.
Short Stories by Mary Kennedy Eastham
There is another reason I don't like short stories very much: because as often as I've tried, I can't write a short story that doesn't totally suck. I mean like total Slurpee! I really don't care to document in detail all my failures at the genre; it's not something we need to dwell on. Suffice to say that I am short story inadequate. But enough about me and my insufficiencies.
To proceed: some chick named Mary Kennedy Eastham, who I don't really know except through social media, proposed that we exchange books and review them in a forthright manner. Translation: if it sucks, don't hesitate to say so. Making a lame effort to ingratiate myself, I agreed and she dutifully sent me a copy of her book ' Squinting Over Water. I like the title and assume that it refers to gazing out over a huge body of water, like the Pacific Ocean, on a sunny day and squinting because of the reflected glare. What I didn't know was that it's a bunch of short stories. This fact, after it came to my attention, resulted in a remote nuance of uneasiness.
Surprise, surprise! Mary not only writes well, but she has an easy intimacy with the architecture of short stories. Essentially, Mary has a knack for what I call 'self-memorandums,' which are reminders. Stories that remind the reader what it is to be human; unrelenting, secretive looks at just how parochial human beings are. In a sense, the stories could be classified as morality stories. Not in the do what's right sense, but rather like fairy tales, where there's a moral to the story, something to be learned. Similar to Silverstein's The Giving Tree.
For example, Cat's Eyes, which is a story about a young man, who, on his way to his mother's fifth wedding, recalls his life with a mother he has always considered selfish and self-centered, a notorious reality that is, on the one hand, charming, while simultaneously, on the other hand, suspect because she didn't act or live her life like mothers are supposed to. During and subsequent to the wedding, he undergoes a change of attitude. He comes to realize that love doesn't arrive pre-packaged according to an established set of rules, that love is a matter of the heart.
Squinting Over Water is a delicate book, full of humor and pathos. After finishing the book, my attitude was a curious composite of envious approval, grudging admiration, and unwilling loyalty to a superb writer. Frankly, I wish I could write half as well as Mary Kennedy Eastham.
Randall Radic, Left Coast: Author of: Blood + Death (Feb. 2016; Headpress), Killing God's Enemies (Feb. 2017; Trine Day) and United Blood Nation (Late 2017; Headpress). Contributor to ContactMusic.com, Ozy.com, Seeking Alpha, HuffPo and Newsaratti.com. (more...)