More of This World or Maybe Another (P.S.)
by Barb Johnson
Reviewed by Sheila Ashdown
A book of linked short stories just might be the most satisfying of literary forms -- for an ardent fiction-lover like myself, anyway. I'm equally enthusiastic about novels and short stories, and a linked collection, such as Barb Johnson's More of This World or Maybe Another, offers the best of both worlds: the concentrated punch and slice-of-life quality of short fiction, plus the novel-esque pleasure of seeing characters evolve over many pages.
The nine interconnected stories in Johnson's gorgeous debut collection follow five characters -- Delia, Maggie, Dooley, Pudge, and Luis -- each of whom appears sometimes as a principal and other times as a bit player. Though every story here can stand alone, they each enhance the others, and some have obvious counterparts. In an author's note at the end of the Harper P.S. edition, Johnson says that back when she used to renovate houses as a carpenter, she would practice "architectural cross-pollination": taking pieces from one house and putting them into another. It's clear that this habit has transferred to her fiction writing to wonderful effect.
For instance, the three that focus on girlfriends Delia and Maggie ("Keeping Her Difficult Balance," "Issue Is," and "The Invitation") deal respectively with their initial meeting as teenagers, an instance of betrayal in their adult relationship, and their eventual redemption. All three are rich, full stories in their own right, but their power is magnified when considered in concert. Moreover, certain details, like a valentine that Pudge makes when he's a kid in "Titty Baby," show up in later stories in the most heartbreakingly poignant ways.
Each story in More of This World or Maybe Another hinges on a seemingly small moment -- leaving a child in the car for a quick minute or putting some party invitations in the mail -- but if a short story is a slice of life, then the sum of this collection shows the power of a moment, of how a whole life is ultimately comprised of its slices.