Characters in this collection of short stories and a novella seek to validate their lives while ensnared in unhappy or fractured relationships.
In the story “He Said, She Said,” a woman has to sell her bookstore when her novelist husband’s debut isn’t selling well. After his later books garner attention and the couple are financially secure, she returns to writing poetry, an activity she enjoyed before they married. He, meanwhile, revels in multiple extramarital affairs. The predominantly female characters in Parrish’s tales struggle to define themselves. Adultery is a recurring theme, as in “The First Time.” In this case, a married woman is sleeping with a married man. Sadly, the title isn’t referencing the initial intimacy but, rather, a much worse transgression the woman suffers. There are additional hurdles that various players must face. Marjorie in “The Shed,” for example, wonders about her retired husband, Ed, who spruces up the shed and then spends most of his time there. Does he think his wife has grown weary of him, or does he feel that way about her? The collection’s final and best offering is the novella Mavis Muldoon. The eponymous character is an 80-year-old woman lounging in a lawn chair in a convenience store parking lot. She reflects on a full life, which includes losing both her husband and her only child. But her warmheartedness is infectious, as she gives a homeless man money for food, cares for his pet ferret, and lends a troubled teen girl her ear.Many of the tales here are filled with misery and melancholy. A woman is considered a “freak” for much of her life simply due to her above-average height (“Here’s Why”) while Sally of “A Wild Feeling,” who craves affection, desperately tells her boyfriend’s other lover: “Give him back.” The book delivers a series of joyless marriages and relationships along with people who are discontent with careers or retirement. Even the dreamers who pursue their love of such arts as painting and photography may achieve success but don’t necessarily find bliss. There are nevertheless glimmers of hope. In “People Like Them,” Raoul has a job that involves checking residents’ homes while they’re away. This gives him and his girlfriend, Sally, the opportunity to stay, at least for a time, in an expensive home, though they may ultimately appreciate what they already have. Likewise, Mavis’ general buoyancy outshines the past tragedies she’s endured as well as her surviving family members—her granddaughter, Isabelle, and her husband, Brian—who seemingly view her as a burden. Parrish’s concise writing gives her already blunt language an even meaner punch: “Frank’s death had been sudden, which though merciful for him, was cruel for her. She’d had no time to prepare herself….He went to the store, stood in line, and dropped dead.” Readers will find some harsh, emotionally draining stories here. But these tales are also wonderfully worthwhile courtesy of an indelible voice that leaves a lasting impact.
Relentlessly despondent, refreshing, and unforgettable tales from a skillful author. (author bio)