Friday, September 23, 2011

Homicide Survivors Picnic a noteworthy story collection

Two story collections; one I can recommend and one I cannot.

Book 94: Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson

The one I cannot recommend, and it pains me to say this, is by Kate Atkinson.  I'm something of a fanboy of Ms. Atkinson.  This collection of stories, released in 2002, comes almost exactly midway between several very fine novels.

Atkinson's skill with the long form does not translate to the short story. Oh, there's a couple of stories worth reading here, but only a couple.   

The exquisite work in miniature exhibited by the best practitioners of the short story (Alice Munro and William Trevor come to mind) is simply missing from the dozen stories assembled here.

Book 100: Homicide Survivors Picnic by Lorraine M. Lopez

This story collection from Lorraine Lopez was shortlisted for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. 

Facing strong competition from Sherman Alexie (War Dances), Lorrie Moore (A Gate at the Stairs) and Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna), it didn't win. Alexie won the prize. He'd win about any competition that I juried. 

Still, I'd place Lopez's work squarely in the middle of the five shortlisted titles. Behind Alexie and Kingsolver, ahead of Moore and Colson Whitehead (Sag Harbor).

Lopez is an observant writer, who must have a stint as a social worker in her background.  Many of the stories, including the title piece, Batterers and Human Services, are drawn from that milieu.  

The stories are sympathetic and knowing, yet the characters' excuses and rationalizations don't give them a free pass. The reader is able to hold them to account as a result of Lopez's insight and intelligence. Through the candid lens of her writing we know the characters better than they know themselves.

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