Linked autobiographical fictions explore the loss of a young husband.
With a delicate balance of cleverness and emotion, the 16 stories in Pietrzyk's (Pears on a Willow Tree, 2011, etc.) collection explore the event of her husband's sudden death at the breakfast table in 1997. Literal facts ("My husband, Robert K. Rauth, Jr., died of a heart attack when he was only 37") in some stories stand beside slightly altered ones in others (a husband named Roger, a husband who drove off the road, a husband who died in his early 40s). The author's wit, clarity, and literary inventiveness dance circles around the omnipresent sadness, making this book a prime example of the furious creative energy that can explode from the collision of grief with talent and craftsmanship. A few stories are traditionally told; many rely on formal strategies—a list, a quiz, a speech, an annotated index, various narrative voices, and a metafiction about the use of narrative voices. Running through them are recurrent details that add the weight of obsessive memory: a carefully organized library of books, a bowl of cornflakes, the music of Springsteen (a misunderstood line of which gives the collection its name), an extramarital affair. Pietrzyk explores every aspect of the truth, including the parts you have to make up, and never gives in to sentimentality or self-pity. As in Joyce Carol Oates' much less successful book A Widow's Story, one learns that the author is remarried—the last line of the last story is addressed to her second husband by name—but here there is no sense of duplicity or caginess. The relief is what we want, both for her and for ourselves. This book is the winner of the distinguished Drue Heinz Literature Prize, upholding its tradition of excellence in short fiction.
Like Magic Rocks in a fishbowl, these stories turn the stones of grief into something bright, crystalline, mesmerizing.