A collection of linked short stories about blue-collar Americans in small-town USA.
Debut author Gilstrap has created a work of 17 vignettes that, when considered as a whole, tell a full story. Characters at the center of one tale reappear as background characters in another. Of varying lengths and styles, each discrete story is set in Charlotte, North Carolina, and typically focuses on someone who is contending with difficult circumstances. In “Paper Fans,” Janine, a young woman, studies the menu at a greasy spoon trying to find something she can afford. She sits with her best friend, Maddie, who comforted her through her mother’s disappearance when they were kids. Later, Maddie helped save her from severe depression after a bad breakup. Janine, still dissatisfied with her life, focuses on the holes in their clothing, their finances, and their lives. In “Machine,” Janine’s grandmother, Sue, worries over her son, Hardy, now that his wife (Janine’s mother) has run off. In “After the Fire is Gone,” Hardy has grown into a lonely man who finds himself smoking weed with the mother of his childhood best friend. Reminiscent in tone and style of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (2008), the collection reveals small-town life and the ways its residents handle grief, loss, and anger. Gilstrap’s work abounds with surprising images and well-turned sentences (“They’d been friends for ages, and sometimes, it was like years folded into paper fans”), and she paints a clear picture of a world where people struggle to create lives that consist of more than Pabst beer and canned Beanee Weenees.
A novel in stories that expertly juxtaposes despair with love and loneliness