A collection of stories set in a Southern town highlights characters’ responses to setbacks.
Worsham (Going to Wings, 2017, etc.) tells quirky tales of ordinary people facing down loss—loss of innocence, loss of composure, or sometimes loss of life. The best story here, “The Second Mrs. Willis,” a coming-of-age account of a preacher’s stepdaughter, is gripping from the first sentence: “I married my English teacher because he got me pregnant. Then he got fired from his job, and now we have nothing.” The longest and most ambitious story, “The Traveling Shoe,” concerns a group of friends who watches one of their number, Maria, die slowly of cancer. When Maria’s partner, June, finds an old golf shoe beside the road and puts in another couple’s mailbox on a whim, it begins a game that eases Maria’s last days for everyone. The most curious addition, “Significant Loss,” is more like a prose poem, only a page and a half in length. Some stories are slim on plot, functioning more as character profiles, and they’re often placeless, set in towns in an unidentified state—though a few identify it as Georgia, where the author was raised. Worsham’s voice is easygoing, understated, and wry, avoiding a surfeit of metaphors and figurative language. Her images are refreshingly low-key, as when a person’s mother is described as having a “dumpy body like a pillow with a belt.” Her symbolism can be overbearing at times, though, as when the narrator of “The Traveling Shoe” finds the mate to the first golf shoe and throws it into the lake, imagining it washing up at June’s house as the latter mourns Maria’s death. Her language is occasionally imprecise, as in the phrase “large bosoms” (which should be singular in this context). However, she compensates with enough spot-on observations to fill a book of quotations, such as this from “The Washer’s Husband”: “He didn’t know then that wives could reveal things that girlfriends never could.”
A cleareyed set of tales about perseverance, with strong, relatable characters and often compelling prose.