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Other titles in the Iowa Short Fiction Award series:
Things Kept, Things Left Behind (Iowa Short Fiction Award)by Jim Tomlinson
Synopses & Reviews
The stories in Things Kept, Things Left Behind explore the ambiguities of kept secrets, the tangles of abandoned pasts, and uneasy accommodations. Jim Tomlinson's characters each face the desire to reclaim dreams left behind, along with something of the dreamer that was also lost. Starkly rendered, these spiraling characters inhabit a specific place and class — small-town Kentucky, working-class America — but the stories, told in all their humor and tragedy, are universal.
In each story the characters face conflict, sometimes within themselves, sometimes with each other. Each carries a past and with it an urge to return and repair. In "First Husband, First Wife," ex-spouses are repeatedly drawn together by a shared history they cannot seem to escape, and they are finally forced to choose between leaving the past or leaving each other. LeAnn and Cass are grown sisters who conspire to help their prideful mother in "Things Kept." "Prologue" is a voyeuristic journey through the surprisingly different lives of two star-crossed friends, each with its successes and pitfalls, told through their letters over thirty-five years. In "Stainless," Annie and Warren divide their possessions on the final night of their marriage. Their realtor has advised them to "declutter" the house they are leaving, but they discover that most of the clutter cannot be so easily removed. The choices are never simple, and for every thing kept, something must be abandoned.
Tomlinson's characters struggle but eventually find their way, often unknowingly, to points of departure, to places where things just might change.
"A rural Kentucky where pride and familial honor are sacrosanct, old flames don't extinguish quietly and secrets are hard to keep centers Tomlinson's debut story collection. In the finely wrought 'Flights,' a writer sits at his father's bedside transcribing the dying man's remembrances, but a cunning shift in perspective shows the real power they hold for the son. The companion stories 'Things Kept' and 'Things Left Behind' examine what can be salvaged in marriage and what can't. In the first, LeAnn McCray, one of eight children, is summoned home from Ohio by her sister Cass. Cass's plan to square their ailing mother's looming debts by selling off their dead father's valuable desk runs smack into their mother's unselfish love for him. In 'Things Left Behind,' LeAnn's lover, Dex, sees in her, and in his 187 days of sobriety, a future beyond the next week and his humdrum married life; LeAnn's controlling husband, Lonnie, feels his life and wife 'slowly spinning away from him' and soon faces a choice of whether to let her go. Tomlinson frames the characters' rich vernaculars simply, and carefully sets the pasts they're desperate to reconcile and repair within bleak, unvarnished presents." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A wonderful collection notable for its clean prose and tone of quiet, stubborn dignity." Kirkus Reviews
"Jim Tomlinson uses the traditional gifts of the writer — love of place, a keen eye for the telling detail, unflagging interest in the human heart — to bring to life a very specific and eye-opening version of America, particularly working-class, rural America. In Things Kept, Things Left Behind, his care for these people and his generosity toward them are evident on every page." George Saunders
"Jim Tomlinson's Things Kept, Things Left Behind is a splendid debut collection of short stories that explores the enduring theme of our quest for an identity. Though deeply connected to the spirit of small towns, these stories reveal aspects of the human condition that have universal resonance. This is an impressive first book in a venerable series by a very talented new voice in American fiction." Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
About the Author
Jim Tomlinson has published short fiction in Five Points, the Pinch, and Shenandoah. He was awarded the 2005 Al Smith Fellowship for Fiction by the Kentucky Arts Council. He grew up in a small Illinois town and now lives with his wife in rural Kentucky, where he is hard at work on a novel.
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