Tag Archives: Short stories

You Should Pity Us Instead, by Amy Gustine

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You Should Pity Us Instead

Amy Gustine

Sarabande Books, 2016

222 pages

Some authors are able to write about multiple worlds, time periods and characters—Amy Gustine is one of them. This debut short story collection has a staggering array of breadth as she sets stories in the U.S. and abroad, in the present and the past, and creates characters of all ages and backgrounds. The only visible connection between the stories is that many focus on motherhood and family and she explore moral choices made by the characters who are everyday people juggling work, family, illness and love.

Each story unfolds slowly, as if Gustine were whispering the reader a secret. And she writes in rich language that creates a series of unique worlds. The book opens with one of my favorite stories, “All the Sons of Cain,” in which an Israeli mother goes to Gaza in search of her son who was captured by Hamas six months prior. She flies to Cairo and gets a driver to take her east where she finds a guide to take her through a tunnel to Gaza. Once there she shows people the photo of her lost son and becomes embroiled with a family. The story is an intimate portrayal of the mother’s quest.

Another one that stood out to me was, “When We’re Innocent.” It tells the story of a father, Obi, who travels from Ohio to Arizona to clean out the apartment of his adult daughter who killed herself. Jocelyn, or Jolly, was a successful TV anchor who didn’t leave a note behind. Obi, and one of Jolly’s neighbors, who is going through a trauma of his own, comb her apartment for clues as to why she took her life. This story is a touching portrait of father – daughter love and the way random people, like neighbors, get to know one and other. Other stories explore a man married to a homebound woman, a 20-something babysitter with a secret from her past and a doctor on Ellis Island.

I was blown away by this collection. If you enjoy contemporary short stories you are in for a treat.

Gustine lives in Ohio and has had many of her stories published in literary journals.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

 

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Fresh Voices..from the U.S. and beyond

You might have seen the New York Times book review’s look at “Fresh Voices” this weekend. The entire review was dedicated to novels, memoirs and story collections written by first- or second-time authors. The accompanying editorial noted that, “‘new’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘young’ – youth (or age, for that matter) being no indicator of talent. But all the voices were fresh, and all made us sit up a bit straighter before settling in for the journey.” This reflects a trend I have seen elsewhere where debut authors are being appreciated for their age, not judged for it.

Of the eight fiction reviews, three were for short story collections. That also stood out to me, as often people say that it is harder to publish short story collections and to get them read than novels. Rare is the collection that ends up on the bestseller list. But it could be that the Times has short stories on their radar right now, as last month they published an article (that was debated by other others) about how short stories “are experiencing a resurgence.” The “Fresh Voices” round-up provides a nice collection of new authors to choose from.

The Toronto Globe & Mail also published an article recently by Zoe Whittal, “For a new generation of writers, it’s go big AND go home,” which looks three debut authors not mentioned by the Times: Ayelet Tsabari, Taiye Selasi and Kenneth Bonert. All three write about exiles and cross-continental identity in our contemporary world.

In the article, Whittal is nostalgic for the 90s, a period during which she posits it was easier to publish a debut novel than now. She cites two stand-out Canadian authors from that period – Yann Martell and Anne Marie McDonald. This is something that has been said in the U.S. press as well and an idea that I am mulling as I read debut works. The central point to her piece, which resonated with me,  is “new authors are having to be more ambitious than ever before in their scope and range. Perhaps, these days, one has to go big to get noticed.”

Of the three authors she reviews, Taiye Salesi’s Ghana Must Go, has been released, and is getting press in the U.S. It tells the story of a Ghanaian family that return to Accra from all over the world after a patriarch dies.

The last book I want to mention this week, Poison, is a YA fantasy novel written by an American author, Bridget Zinn. I am not a big fantasy reader, but I was deeply moved by Bridget’s life story – she was a young woman (early 30s) who died of colon cancer after this, her first novel, was bought and did not live to see it in print. Her book debuted this month, and friends and family have been promoting it. Her moving story, and the family’s campaign to market her book is getting written about in blogs and papers. Publishers Weekly did a nice story on her earlier this month.

I have Poison on my Kindle and am about three chapters in. It is the story of Kyra, a 16-year old potions master who is on the run in her kingdom. The plot moves easily and Kyra is a sympathetic protagonist. For those of you who like fantasy, or who have YA family members who do, I encourage you to give Poison a look. And thanks to Proto Libro reader EB for telling me about Bridget’s story. I find it very moving. What an accomplishment for her to have sold this book, but deeply sad that she did not live to see it in print.

 

 

 

 

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