Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Love Stories in the Town

Summary: From San Francisco to Savannah, Montana to Texas, Amanda Eyre Ward’s characters are united in their fervent search to find a place where they truly belong. Annie, a librarian in a small mining town, must choose between the only home she’s ever known and the possibility of a new future. Casey, a suburban New Yorker with a wry sense of humor, braves the dating scene after losing her husband. And in six linked stories spanning a decade of her life, Lola Wilkerson navigates elopement, motherhood, and lingering questions about who she wants to be when she grows up. Whether exploring the fierceness of a mother’s love or the consolations of marriage, Amanda Eyre Ward’s stories are imbued with humor, clear-eyed insight, and emotional richness. -- Ballantine Books

I consider myself a pretty big fan of Amanda Eyre Ward. I have read and enjoyed all three of her books -- SLEEP TOWARD HEAVEN, HOW TO BE LOST, and FORGIVE ME; and my book club even discussed SLEEP TOWARD HEAVEN a few years ago. So when Ms. Ward contacted me on Twitter (@amandaeyreward) and asked if I would be interested in receiving a copy of her latest book LOVE STORIES IN THIS TOWN, I almost fell over. Of course, I wanted to read it!

LOVE STORIES IN THIS TOWN is a little different from Ms. Ward's other books -- it is actually a collection of twelve short stories. To be honest with you, I haven't read many short story collections. I think I am actually a little intimidated by short stories, but I don't really understand why. (Come to think of it, that might be a topic for a future post!) Since I enjoyed Ms. Ward's other books and already appreciated her writing style, I assumed that I would probably like her short stories too. I am happy to say that I recognized Ms. Ward's writing in each of these stories, and I absolutely thought this book was a treat to read.

While the book is made up of twelve short stories, there are also two parts to this book. The first part is made of six short stories with the underlying theme of love (in all shapes and forms.) The second part of the novel also deals with similar themes; however, these six stories are all about the character of Lola. I can't really decide if I liked one part of the book better than the other, but I did enjoy getting to know Lola (maybe that's my bias because I usually read novels.) I'm sure this is always the case when someone reads a collection of short stories, but there are definitely a few stories (and characters) that really stood out to me. Having said that, I enjoyed all twelve of the stories and thought they were beautifully written; and there really weren't any that didn't cause me to think.

One story that made a strong impression on me was the very first one in the book -- "Should I Be Scared?" This story is about a woman who is living in fear in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attack. She is absolutely desperate to get her hands on some cipro; and her growing fears eventually take over her life and even harm her relationship with her husband. There is another touching story related to the aftermath of 9/11 called "The Way the Sky Changed." This story deals with a widow who attempts to enter the dating scene again. My heart just went out to the characters in this story, and it definitely pointed out how much a tragedy like this has so many rippling effects.

I'm finding it difficult not to talk about each story because there are so many things in each one that are worth discussing. I also really liked all six of the Lola stories that made up the second part of this book. These six stories span 10 years, and I really felt like I got to know the Lola character at various stages in her life. Each of these stories can stand alone, but I really like how they flowed with each other. One in particular really has stayed in my thoughts -- "Grandpa Fred in Love." In this story, Lola has to deal with her difficult father while also trying to come to terms with her daughter's delayed development. I would love to see Lola appear in either future short stories or even in her own novel.

I have such an appreciation for authors who can write good short stories. I am definitely not a writer, but I imagine that it would be so difficult to develop a story and its characters in so few pages. As I read LOVE STORIES IN THE TOWN, I thought Ms. Ward did a wonderful job with these stories. Not only the characters came to life, but the stories and even the settings were developed fully.

Another thing I absolutely loved about this book were all of the "extras" in the back. The interview with Ms. Ward is fantastic and really enhanced my enjoyment of these stories. Plus, I was just thrilled to find out that she is working on another novel! In addition, there is a
reading guide that has some very thought-provoking questions about the themes and characters. I know my book club has never really tackled a collection of short stories, but I think LOVE STORIES IN THIS TOWN might make a terrific selection for us. The stories are all engaging, and there are just loads of things to discuss.

Whether you are a reader who loves short stories or one more like me who is just beginning to appreciate them, I highly recommend LOVE STORIES IN THIS TOWN.
A big thanks to Ballantine and Amanda Eyre Ward for sending me LOVE STORIES IN THE TOWN.


bermudaonion said...

I'm intimidated by short stories, too. I told myself I would try more this year, but so far, I haven't. This collection sounds great!

Anonymous said...

Great review! I canNOT wait to read this book! Amanda will be doing a book signing this week in my area, and I am totally going. I'm intimiated to meet her, but at the same time, am so excited at the possiblity of meeting someone who writes so poetic.

Ti said...

I am just not a short story reader! I like to dive into a book and get to know the characters and for me, a short story takes you so far and then leaves you hanging a bit.

Beth F said...

I'm not a big short story reader either -- but that's because I always want to know more!

Melissa said...

I've read a lot more short stories this year than in the past, and have really been enjoying them. I read Forgive Me earlier this year and it didn't work for me. I just finished Sleep Toward Heaven and while I liked it better, it wasn't great. Maybe her style just doesn't work for me...