Separate Kingdoms: Stories

Valerie Laken, Author
Valerie Laken , Harper Perennial, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-084094-5
Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-06-204160-9
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The stories in Laken's capable follow-up to Dream House are divided among the experimental and the straightforward, the hopeful and the wistful. Laken visually splits the title story on the page: one side sees a removed narrator recount a man's coming-to-terms with the loss of his thumbs, the result of "a coffee-and- ephedrine buzz" and the bypassing of safety regulations at his manufacturing job; the other side tells the story from the perspective of the man's 12-year-old son. Other stories, too, focus on divided perceptions, though with less visual flair. In "Before Long," set in the Russian countryside in 1993, Anton, "twelve and blind," longs to feel useful to his older friend, Oleg, and tries to buy a pornographic magazine for Oleg's collection while on an outing with his overbearing mother. In "Family Planning," Josie and her girlfriend, Meg, travel to Moscow to adopt a child, but when they are given a choice of orphans, the women unexpectedly confront their divergent hopes and expectations. If all this sounds bleak, Laken keeps the misery in check, even as she excavates the split between people, cultures, and generations. (Feb.)
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