Things Kept, Things Left Behind

Things Kept, Things Left Behind

3.5 2
by Jim Tomlinson

View All Available Formats & Editions

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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, this well-worked debut collection of 11 stories delineates life's wrenching milestones: divorce, moving, the death of a parent. Tomlinson's protagonists, mostly citizens of rural Kentucky, are adults in various stages of transition, not quite sure where they're headed. In the strong opener, "First Husband, First Wife," Cheryl has had two subsequent spouses but still can't break her connection with the baleful Jerry, who keeps getting her into trouble with the law. "The Accomplished Son" follows Polk, a young army specialist who returns home from Iraq with his pregnant wife. He's too late to attend the funeral of his father, wheelchair-bound for a dozen years after a gun accident that involved the town lawyer. The rage of war combined with a desperate urge to feel love for his unborn child sends Polk on a terrible mission to the lawyer's house, seeking revenge for the catastrophe that soured his father's life, and his own. The two stories that together form the title feature the same characters. "Things Kept" shows sisters Cass and LeAnn grappling with a crisis: They need to raise quick money to pay off the delinquent taxes their dotty mother owes on the family house in Spivey, Ky. LeAnn, who lives in Ohio, hatches the idea of selling Ma's antique desk to salesman Dexter Chalk, a former boyfriend with whom LeAnn happens to be having an adulterous affair. In "Things Left Behind," the lovers meet in a motel room out of a desperate need to feel in control of their careening lives. Alcoholic Dex is trying to stay sober, while LeAnn recognizes that the person who's changed in her marriage is not her narrow-minded husband, but rather herself. Like all ofTomlinson's characters, these two ring true and utterly human. A wonderful collection notable for its clean prose and tone of quiet, stubborn dignity.
From the Publisher
“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

Product Details

University of Iowa Press
Publication date:
Iowa Short Fiction Award
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
229 KB

Meet 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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Things Kept, Things Left Behind 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
These stories were unlike any short stories I've ever read before. Rather than leaving me wanting more from the characters and the story line, they truly left me satisfied. After each story was finished, I felt as though I had just spent a novel's worth of time with the characters. They were that well developed, and the stories, though tragic at times, are written with a humor and wit that I really enjoyed. In each story there is conflict be it within the characters themselves as they dream about things they've sacrificed or lost out on, or be it between two or more characters. In each story the conflict is real the stories are utterly human, and I think this is why I enjoyed reading them as much as I did. If you like short stories, or even if you don't this is a book I would recommend you pick up in your travels. You won't be sorry.