How can stories this brief be so satisfying?
The travails of Patsy Cline’s personal assistant and those of Ava Gardner on a rare visit to her hometown. Of a chorus member in a high school production of West Side Story, a bridal store clerk, a rapist’s daughter, a self-pitying stalker. A pair of stories narrated by an accidental murderer and the mother of the child he killed; a trio that explore the relationship between a woman dying of cancer, her husband, and a not-very-close friend who has appointed herself head caretaker. A hilarious report from the drummer of an aging rock band on a reunion tour. McGraw’s (Better Food for a Better World, 2013) fourth collection of stories—her seventh book—deals with the profound, the dire, the mundane, and the ridiculous, paying particular attention to relationships between parents and children, siblings, spouses, criminals and their victims. While some stories are meant purely to amuse, many are intense and beautiful. “These times come for no reason and too rarely, days and evenings that quiver like a bee’s wing”: So begins the title story, which deals with the possibility of joy after everything one loves is gone, from a sister whose “pealing laughter used to unfurl all the way across the playground” to an Irish setter who knew how to lick a person’s feet “from ankle to toes, until he’d licked the day away.” The last story, “Prayer,” is just that, a direct address to God that explores the utility of spiritual faith in helping a person resist having an affair with a married woman. “Because you created choice. Because life is an endless success of choose, choose, choose, and eventually we’re going to choose wrong, and then discover you waiting at the threshold of that wrong choice.…Because her husband’s name is Gary, and I have never met a Gary I didn’t like.”
Fifty-three gems that demonstrate all the things a short story can do. Wow.