Upper Midwestern families navigate loss and heartbreak.
In “Points of Exchange,” the third story in Summie’s debut collection, a young woman named Jenny moves from Minnesota to New York. From her co-op in Alphabet City, Jenny grows more and more unnerved by her neighborhood, where men harass women on the street and where she worries about the fate of a young girl, Rashon, who is frequently left to her own devices. At the story’s end, Jenny flees back to Minnesota, “aiming for safety, for the chance to breathe.” Jenny is emblematic of all Summie’s characters—their lives are circumscribed by nostalgia. In “Geographies of the Heart,” a woman can't forgive her sister for being absent as their grandfather is dying in a hospital. In “Fish Eyes in Moonlight,” an elderly man whose heart is failing moves in with his granddaughter, who recently experienced a miscarriage. Some of the stories feature repeating characters, and all of them deal with some sort of strained familial relationship, highlighting the ways we fail to communicate with those we value most highly. Summie writes elegantly of Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, with their disappearing farmland, aging population, and winters that are both brutal and engendering of intimacy. Like a landscape painter, she creates memorable images: a wheelchair-bound man stuck in a muddy rut, a young mother pulling a line of children through a whiteout. But also like a landscape, these stories are largely static. Very little happens except reminiscence, and Summie’s penchant for earnest proclamations (“ ‘You have to let go,’ my mother said, ‘but you always hold on’ ”) can make it feel as if the stories are more concerned with lessons than with narratives.
A quiet first effort in need of more warmth and verve.