Short stories task me, which is to say I'm not a big fan of short stories in general or in particular. Now don't get me wrong. There are a few writers whose short stories are wonderments: P.G. Wodehouse, O. Henry, Ray Bradbury and, of course, Kurt Vonnegut. And there are other authors I'm sure I enjoy reading, it's just that I can't think of them right now. Oh yeah: Isaac Asimov. The aforementioned authors have the ability to engage me from the first sentence, either because of their 'voice' or because they employ a great 'hook' or more often than not, simply because even though I don't know what's coming, I know it's going to be good.
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.
There's a state of disturbing propinquity to Mary's short stories. By that I mean they engage the reader in a visceral manner, because the reader has either gone through a similar experience or knows someone who has. Each story has a vitality of its own. And Mary's writing style, along with her 'voice,' provide a sense of imminence, exhibiting an emotional refinement that leaves the reader refocused on Life and all it entails. Inner truths are exposed, which in turn brings about an emotional catharsis. To put it bluntly, Mary demonstrates via stellar storytelling that although existence is extremely complex and things tend to fall apart, optimism persists. Humans learn, grow, adapt and move on. The best is yet to come.
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.