Wineberg (Second Language, 2005, etc.) follows up her novel with this emotional short story collection, consisting largely of works previously published in literary journals.
The overriding theme running through each of these 15 stories is the tenacity and vulnerability of human connection. Most of the lead characters watch one life dissolve while another begins, as their memories of past relationships persist and affect their abilities to form new ones. This plays out in obvious moments, such as when a mother leaves her daughter at college for the first time (“Taking Leave”), and in more subtle situations, such as when a woman ignores a phone message from her ex-husband in order to concentrate on her new lover. In the title piece, a woman named Grace uses a self-help newsletter to try to console herself about her husband’s decision to seek a divorce; it tells her that “relatively small hassles often have a greater impact on us than major life events do.” That statement is true for some characters but not for others, and certainly not for Grace. The most harrowing story in the collection is “A Question of Place,” in which a mother finds herself rushing her 3-year-old daughter to the hospital with a pencil jabbed into her stomach while also trying to keep her 5- and 7-year-old kids in line. When she finally faces her husband, who was unexpectedly called in to work during the crisis, she realizes that she can’t be with him anymore. But Wineberg doesn’t write the end of the marriage—she ends with the realization as a turning point. The author doesn’t resolve anything too cleanly or neatly, which is something she does quite well throughout this collection. It gives the stories more weight and makes them feel more real, and it also makes the tension between old and new lives more acute.
There’s still more to each story after the author is finished with her characters, and that’s what makes this collection so satisfying.