By Light We Knew Our Names

Anne Valente. Dzanc (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (222p) ISBN 978-1-936873-62-3
Family looms large in the 13 stories in Valente’s debut: children are nurtured or neglected; parents dote on their young children; grandparents tell colorful yarns. It is familiar material, but the warmth and fluidity of Valente’s prose and her eye for the detail have genuine resonance. “To a Place Where We Have Light,” in which teenage Mike and his dad struggle to remain calm while his mom lies gravely ill in the hospital, derives its poignancy from what’s left unspoken. Like a few other entries, it is instilled with a sense of immediacy by the use of the present tense. In “Minivan,” the unnamed narrator, a schoolteacher, worries about his live-in girlfriend, Jane, after she is sexually assaulted. The title story lacks the compassion and quiet authority of the rest of the collection, but it does explore family dynamics and unresolved feelings. The circle of teenage friends are full of pain and rage, and act out with violence. In general, issues trump characterization in these stories; well-crafted and perhaps overly solemn, they are the kind of fare that used to appear in the “better” women’s magazines. Valente’s territory may be small, but she covers it with insight and depth. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/23/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
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