Noone should be able to write this well. But I am in awe. And a new and forever fan of Amy Parker.
This debut collection of ten linked stories is one of the best I’ve read this year. Possibly ever. I finished the collection late last night and couldn’t wait to talk about it, but at the same time didn’t know how to. I don’t want to give too much away.
The stories follow two families for the majority of the book, the Bowmans and the Parkers. A third family, the Guzmans, come in a little later. But when you (the reader) see how they are all connected it’s really quite perfect.
Some of the stories are disturbing and dark. Ok, most of them. But such is life. And while the brutally honest darkness makes you want to look away, Parker adds in very human and heartfelt emotions that is also part of life. I cringed, I felt anxious and couldn’t put the book down. I did choke up and cry a bit at parts.
Beasts and children, Parker uses throughout the book, because they are “whole and alive”. The main characters are introduced as young children in dysfunctional families. The Bowmans from Texas and the Fosters who move every few years overseas, take turns telling snippets of major events in their lives. As children they see their families and life for what they are but as adults they look back trying to make sense of it all; to make peace of their parents’ choices and to understand them as adults themselves.
“‘It’s for the best.’
Adults always said that. As if they had any idea. Grownups merely said what was convenient, and what was convenient always denied a child’s desire or anguish. Sometimes they insisted brightly, in response to your fear or despair, that ‘life isn’t fair’; at others, ‘it will all work out.’ They would say, ‘I’m not a mind reader’ and then tell you ‘I know you better than you know yourself.’ above all adults loved to proclaim, with implacable certainty, that your worst, most shattering disappointments were always ‘for the best.'”
Stunning, gorgeous prose. Some of the best I’ve ever read. The fifth story was the hardest for me to read and I wondered it’s purpose (again, it all come together later). But then the sixth story, “Catastrophic Molt” is one of THE best stories I’ve read. The development of the characters that appear earlier (namely the mother Grace) is so impressive all my senses were alive while reading it. The words Parker used in that story stunned me. I have not read words put together like that that didn’t feel obnoxious but absolutely necessary to understand the character. Grace Bowman is now one of my favorite literary characters just from that story. Her darkness, wit and contradictions made me reread that story over and over, laughing and in awe.
The ninth story, “A Neighborly Day For A Beauty” brings two sisters together from the Foster family as adults. It’s the perfect combination of holding on to individuality, growth and respect for each others’ differences. It struck a nerve because I am like that with my own sisters and of course using Mister Rogers analogies and wisdom made it the perfect read (to me).
Those who don’t like short stories, take a chance on this collection. Each story is important to the whole book. They must be read in order and I will warn readers that some are not pretty. Some are downright hard to read, but the darkness is important to the light that comes later. I promise.