WHAT YOU'VE BEEN MISSING

Janet Desaulniers, Author . Univ. of Iowa $15.95 (140p) ISBN 978-0-87745-910-1

"Hope and regret, child. You seem to be making a home for yourself exactly in between," says a young bar regular in this delicately rendered debut collection about the emotional consequences of loss. Other characters are caught in that balance as well: daughters trying on different versions of themselves after their father's death; a boy grappling with his parents' joint-custody divorce; a naïve young woman discovering her husband and his co-worker mid-kiss. The stories, set in modern-day Midwestern towns, are told in uncomplicated but elegant language and a graceful, even tone. Realistic dialogue and poignant introspection portray grief as multilayered—confusing, exhausting and inspiring. Desaulniers slips up only occasionally in characterization; a young girl awaiting her mother's next departure, for example, is too thin and vague a figure to embody the nuances of an abandoned childhood. But when Desaulniers is good, she's excellent, as in the gripping "The Next Day," in which thoughtful Tucker says of his wife's late-night storytelling: "She tells me these stories because she trusts me to love her more than she loves herself. This is how people merge, I think." Moments such as these distinguish the collection: simple enough to be recognizable yet unusual enough to be remarkable. Agent, Alexis Hurley. (Oct.)

Forecast: Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, this collection can be confidently recommended to any fan of short stories.

Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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