A shrewd and probing volume of literary tales.

I HAVE THE ANSWER

Characters deal with personal tragedies and outsiders in this short story collection.

A man attempts to record the memories of his father before they are all lost to dementia, but as the tales begin to contradict one another, he can’t be sure what is fact and what is fiction. A woman whose husband recently left her suffers a sudden attack of agoraphobia only to be drawn into the strange fantasies of her peculiar neighbor. Some women acclimate to their lives as mothers over the course of 16 years. A stressed-out high school student wakes up one morning to discover that he’s grown a third arm: “He went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face, and that’s when he noticed the third arm. It was more like a hologram of a third arm. He could see the wall through it….As he stood looking at himself, it went straight up like a crossing guard’s arm. Then it waved.” In these 13 stories, Fordon explores the often surreal nature of suburban life, usually through the perplexing and aggravating relationships formed between family members, friends, and neighbors. The author’s prose is exact and knife-sharp, slicing to the soft center of her characters’ afflictions. In “How It Passed,” in which some friends narrate their experiences using the first-person plural, they gripe about their husbands thusly: “They are useless, we decide. Before long we are peeling them apart like string cheese with our ragged, misshapen nails.” Some tales sputter to rather easy conclusions, but each one finds a provocative tension between two or more people and burrows unflinchingly toward the heart of it. The results are stories that lay bare the messiness that lurks behind the facades people present to society. Standout pieces include “The Shorebirds and the Shaman,” in which a newly widowed woman is tricked by a friend into attending an alternative therapy seminar on Lake Erie, and “Why Did I Ever Think This Was a Good Idea,” which follows a mother wishing good riddance to her disrespectful son, about to leave for a gap year in China.

A shrewd and probing volume of literary tales.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8143-4752-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Wayne State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more