You Should Pity Us Instead
Sarabande Books, 2016
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.