This Close by Jessica Francis Kane. Publisher: Graywolf Press (2013). Stories. Paperback Original. 192 pages. ISBN 978-1-55597-636-1.
The Report, the debut novel by Jessica Francis Kane, is one of the best novels I’ve read. So well-crafted, I didn’t want it to end. Now Kane has this story collection. Could I get engulfed in these stories as I had in with The Report? Writing stories requires skill and balance. A good story is one that the reader continues to contemplate long after reading it. Unlike a novel, one has to get to the point quickly. One has to develop characters within a limited time frame. Kane is a strong writer who doesn’t use flowery prose. She writes to reveal every aspect of a person, examining them with a fine lens. She writes what many might think but may be afraid to express. These are honest, reflective stories about precarious, stressful situations.
“Double Take” finds college classmates gathering to mourn a friend—a wildly successful attorney– who accidentally drowned while vacationing on Fire Island. They reminisce and then promise to keep in touch with the friend’s mother. Years later, Ben, who’d been roommates with Mike, awkwardly visits Mike’s mother when he’s traveling cross-country.
“He was happy. He was a black-and-white movie made over in Technicolor. He was a years-dormant Christmas cactus suddenly in bloom. He worked long hours, but still had time for a book club. He was reading fiction for the first time, he told friends, after far too much case law.”
“Evidence of Old Repairs” focuses on a woman in denial with her alcoholism.
“Her mother had been an alcoholic, her grandmother one as well. Did this explain Sarah’s problems? Sarah didn’t think so, despite all the rhetoric of the age. She poured another drink. Two hours later the salad was soggy confetti instead of the elegant strips it was meant to be and Sarah, looking deep in the white plastic bowl, knew this was a metaphor for her.”
A woman shares a home with her elderly father but they’re far from confidants in “The Essentials of Acceleration.” She lives a rather solitary life. Did she disappoint him by not following an academic life as he had? Driving functions as a metaphor for her goals and her relationship with her father.
“My mother loved books, my father is a professor, our house is full or bookshelves, but I am not a reader. I read more than the average American, according to the newspaper, but it’s not for me an essential activity.”
“I am the neighbor you don’t know. The neighbor who doesn’t do anything wrong, but for some reason you just don’t like her very much.”
Kane examines grief. The death of a child in “Next in Line.” How does one handle losing a child? What are her relationships like after her daughter’s death?
“To be a woman in the world after the death of a child. How to explain this? It bears some resemblance, perhaps, to being newly married or newly pregnant. You are in a brand-new, all-encompassing state, and yet the rest of the world is oblivious.”
“She always moved to music: She laughed a lot. But wouldn’t it be harder to lose someone you knew better? Is losing a toddler just losing a dream?”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Graywolf Press.