This was my 100th book of 2018, and it couldn't have been a better choice. In fact, it might be my favorite book of 2018 so far.
Some books just really hit you in your heart.
This book, it was more like the heart, gut, throat, chest—a full body knockout.
Karen E. Bender’s stories in this new collection are something different, something necessary for our fragile, tumultuous social and political landscape. She begins in small moments in the lives of her characters and crafts emotional, compelling stories that draw you in, until finally you realize the whole story has been about something much larger the whole time.
A woman struggling to find her way and keep herself afloat goes on three interviews, but her interviewers are all stuck in their own loops of self-misery and can’t see beyond the haze of their own problems, however large or small, and it bleeds across the interviews in an unexpected way.
A girl stuck going to Hebrew school twice a week worries about divide between her Hebrew school self and who she is with her friends at her public school, while in the background, violent crimes are perpetrated against people of her faith in other countries.
In the one genre story set in a dystopian/futuristic landscape, a woman who is lucky to have a job in the diminishing market reads complaints from and awards monetary compensation to people who dislike their jobs but are unable to leave due to restrictions from the government. She is given a promotion, but the complaints take on a darker edge and she struggles to understand the reason behind it all.
Each story is startlingly simple, full of those everyday occurrences that make life both mundane and unique. From simple interactions between strangers in an elevator or on a plane, to the longer narratives, there is a simple clarity, a pure brilliance as Bender turns a light—fiercely—on what is really going on, what really matters.
More than just casting our reflection back at us, these stories dig to the center of socio-political issues in a way that is innately human. You can't help but to feel at the very minimum the unsettling, like walking on uneven ground in the dark, that the stories bring up in your gut. There is something wrong here, I kept thinking, but how can I fix it?
Yes—how do we fix it? Are we, as a country fixable? We are good at commenting on the problems that we see, but are we ready to dig to the root of the problem, to get in there and really clean up the mess we've created?
What will it take?
Reading books like this remind me why writing and reading is so important. Fiction has a voice, and it has something to say, something we should all be listening to.
Huge, expansive and never-ending thanks to Counterpoint Press for putting an ARC of this book in my hands to read and review. It is definitely one I will be recommending to everyone. This book is out in November.
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.