Another guest review by Janelle Bailey, retired Literature teacher.
So, first: I absolutely loved Writers and Lovers, my introduction to Lily King’s writing, and then read The English Teacher, which I also loved, so then ordered copies of everything she has written. But I have been saving the others for when I NEED to read something I can trust, fully, will be “really good.”
And then when I saw that a brand new Lily King was coming out, I probably did not even pay attention to the finely printed “Stories” on its cover, maybe not even until after I had selected it for book club. Hmpf, no emojis allowed in these reviews, huh? Well…it would be useful to be able to easily insert, otherwise, a kind of Steve-Urkel-sounding “Did I do that?” otherwise.
This is to say that it has been my experience that it is a very, very rare author who is equally good, let alone equally tremendous, in multiple genres. And there is absolutely a difference between short stories and novels and, I think, that is the case for both their readers and their writers.
So the fault may be mine, I say, for having had of this collection of King’s short stories some promise to leave me feeling like reading a King novel does. For I did still think, when I finally treated myself to diving in, “It’s Lily King! It will be amazing!”
Therefore, I don’t know whether it is because it is King writing short stories instead of a novel, or my expectations of King novels being imposed on these short stories, or my not reading them as they should have been read, or what, really, but: truly and simply, these did not do for this reader the same as King’s novels have.
They did not make me smile (frequently enough) at characters I fully understood, smacking a sentence or page in as many of those “I see you! I hear you!” and “You get me!” moments as I have with her novels. There were also not the rich and valuable allusions to great literature that have always enhanced my value for, added to my connection to her novels’ characters. And there simply wasn’t enough or wasn’t the “right stuff” to give me what I needed, albeit in short story form, to feel the value of spending the time with these characters and/or their stories…in quite the ways I expected to, since Lily King wrote them.
And this is true of my feelings of most of the stories contained within.
But it is not accurate for how much I truly enjoyed meeting Oda and Hanne in “North Sea,” for their mother-daughter relationship. This story struck me on a number of levels and gave me a truly valuable short story experience.
And I also enjoyed aspects of “Timeline,” but truly that was due, mostly, to the crazy coincidence of its setting being Vermont and Lake Champlain, where I had just visited for the very first time, myself, last week.
I won’t be quitting King any time soon, though. Yes, I will pay closer attention to the fine print that lets me know whether I am picking up a novel by a novelist I value, a collection of short stories by a writer of short fiction whom I value, or anything written by those rare few who have been tried and truly do cross genres amazingly well.
But you…you may love this one, so don’t listen to me. Just read it yourself, and let me know what you think!