Books Read in December

“Vanishing and Other Stories” stories by Deborah Willis

Weeks pass and the police give up their investigation.

A widower seeks solace at a casino. A young teacher collects fiancés. Two sisters navigate their parents’ separation. Even without Alice Munro’s blurb on the cover, I would’ve noticed her influence within the stories. Willis manages to create whole worlds within short stories. The stories and characters have unimagined depth. This is a collection I will turn to again and again, pen in hand, to learn from, marvel at and appreciate.

“Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” stories by Wells Tower

Bob Munro woke up on his face.

Isn’t that a fantastic title? Boys and men, struggling to find their place in the world populate these stories where families are fractured and tenuously put back into some sort of togetherness.

“War Dances” short stories by Sherman Alexie

Back in college, when I was first learning how to edit film– how to construct a scene– my professor, Mr. Baron, said to me, “You don’t have to show people using a door to walk into a room.

The owner of a vintage clothing business whose marriage is on the brink becomes obsessed with a women in red Pumas that he encounters in various airports. As a man discovers he may have a brain tumor, he remembers his father slowly succumbing to what he calls “a natural Indian death” from alcoholism and diabetes. These stories can be quiet yet powerful. He reminds me to write slowly, observe carefully and dive into the dark heart of a story.

“Matched” YA novel by Ally Condle

Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?

Yet another dystopian story that I couldn’t put down. In this world, the Officials make all the decisions from who you love to where you work to what you eat to what you read. In the old society too many choices had led to chaos. Counsels were formed to preserve only one hundred paintings. One hundred poems. There is no need to write or create in this new society. It is considered dangerous to do so. When Cassia reaches the age of seventeen, it is time to  be “matched”. When she sees the image of her best friend since childhood appear on the screen as her match she knows he is the one until the image of another boy appears briefly. It can’t be a mistake because this new Society doesn’t make mistakes. Or do they? This is a page turner so be prepared to just give yourself over for at least a day or two.

“The Middle Place” a memoir by Kelly Corrigan

The thing you need to know about me is that I am George Corrigan’s daughter, his only daughter.

Corrigan is happily living her life in what she calls “the middle place” which is “that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap”. Then she finds a lump in her breast and soon after learns that her beloved father has bladder cancer. The book is beautifully structured and the story beautifully written. I found myself either laughing or crying every few pages. Have a box of tissues nearby and be prepared to neglect your family and life for a couple of days.

“Refresh, Refresh” stories by Benjamin Percy

When school let out the two of us went to my backyard to fight.

I remember being thoroughly impressed when I read the title story in the Paris Review. It was later included in Best American Short Stories 2006. After reading this collection certain images haunt me like the boys flying down the side of a crater and certain stories haunt me like, “Meltdown” which is set in Oregon in 2015 after a nuclear disaster has turned much of the country into a wasteland. His writing is bold, the characters are memorable and things happen in each and every story. Big things, little things, just as in life. It reminded me to be aware of that in my own writing. Be sure that things happen and it’s not just the character musing. One other thing I noticed? Blood appears in just about every story. From fighting, from hunting. Somehow there is always the image of blood. One story starts with the sentence, “There is blood on his hands.”  And there certainly was.

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