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What You've Been Missing (John Simmons Short Fiction Award)by Janet Desaulniers
Synopses & Reviews
Populated by characters as frank as their midwestern settings, What You’ve Been Missing, Janet Desaulniers’s debut collection, explores the unsettling moments when ordinary life ceases to exist. Parents, confused by their five-year-old’s refusal to sit up in her chair, lift her blouse to find she’s been beaten. A woman returns from a shopping trip just in time to see her husband kissing a young co-worker. A young husband constructs an elaborate and romanticized version of his new marriage and then ruins it in one gesture. These singular moments propel each person on a journey beyond the realm of everyday existence.
Vividly portraying the possible horrors and detours that can mark anyone’s life, Desaulniers beautifully captures the vast and often conflicting emotions that humans endure at times of loss and sorrow—loneliness, pain, desperation, desire. Yet this balletic push and pull of emotions will challenge, wound, and ultimately enlighten her characters, transporting them to a place beyond individual sorrow.
At times unbearably heartbreaking, What You’ve Been Missing is not just another set of stories about bad things happening to good people. At its heart, this award-winning collection is about people continuing to talk—rather than shutting down—as bad things happen to them. As the recently divorced Liza thinks in “The Good Fight”: “Words do ease us. They comfort us. Maybe they protect us in a way, rescue us from the agony of what our bodies feel.”
"'Hope and regret, child. You seem to be making a home for yourself exactly in between,' says a young bar regular in this delicately rendered debut collection about the emotional consequences of loss. Other characters are caught in that balance as well: daughters trying on different versions of themselves after their father's death; a boy grappling with his parents' joint-custody divorce; a nave young woman discovering her husband and his co-worker mid-kiss. The stories, set in modern-day Midwestern towns, are told in uncomplicated but elegant language and a graceful, even tone. Realistic dialogue and poignant introspection portray grief as multilayered — confusing, exhausting and inspiring. Desaulniers slips up only occasionally in characterization; a young girl awaiting her mother's next departure, for example, is too thin and vague a figure to embody the nuances of an abandoned childhood. But when Desaulniers is good, she's excellent, as in the gripping 'The Next Day,' in which thoughtful Tucker says of his wife's late-night storytelling: 'She tells me these stories because she trusts me to love her more than she loves herself. This is how people merge, I think.' Moments such as these distinguish the collection: simple enough to be recognizable yet unusual enough to be remarkable. Agent, Alexis Hurley. (Oct.) Forecast: Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, this collection can be confidently recommended to any fan of short stories. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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