Saturday, November 9, 2013

In These Times the Home is a Tired Place - Jessica Hollander

The women are perfectly poised and expertly posed: arms and legs extended, toes pointed slightly, backs arched just so, diving with seeming grace and confidence in perfectly choreographed formation.They have followed all the rules of diving and have launched themselves into the universe just as we've said they ought - except that instead of water below, there is nothing but air and solid ground. Will they crash, or will they defy the law of gravity and somehow take flight?

These bold yet imperiled divers represent well the characters in Jessica Hollander's Katherine Anne Porter Prize-winning collection In These Times the Home is a Tired Place (University of North Texas Press, 2013). In these precisely drawn stories of messy domesticity, Hollander's (mostly) young (mostly) women chafe under the strictures of expectations and life circumstances. We meet daughters challenging parental boundaries, girlfriends contemplating unexpected motherhood; a wife falling apart as her marriage, too, crumbles; mothers, sisters and daughters navigating gulfs of familial estrangement.

Gender roles are a prominent theme in the collection, and while the stories are told primarily from the point of view of women, the men in these stories struggle with their designated roles as well. A boyfriend considering fatherhood watches sitcoms to try to figure out how a family should be; a father clings tightly to Victorian mores in the bewildering face of his daughters' coming of age. The conflict in these stories is personal and intimate, but also hints at larger societal failure.

Some of my favorite stories in the collection, such as "The Year We are Twenty Three," and "Like Falling Down and Laughing," expand beyond gender to also consider the state of modern young adulthood, including the frustration of seeking meaning and gainful employment in a world where the path to success is no longer clearly defined. In "The Year We Are Twenty Three," a young woman, recently graduated from college, works at a fitness center where a feud simmers between liberal and conservative patrons. At home, she and her boyfriend work on opposite schedules, passing each other like ships in the night, their relationship reduced to messages left on the fridge. While her older customers wage a silly and stubborn war of clothing and ideology, the two young lovers exchange philosophical Post-Its in a search for answers and connection.

The stories in In These Times the Home is a Tired Place brim with tension and little moments of surprise, and I found them exciting to read. The author doesn't shy away from gritty subjects or dark emotions - yet her stories also offer unexpected and touching moments of hope. As in any collection, some stories, such as those mentioned above, stood out more for me and others a little less (the more experimental "If We Miss the Beginning"), but I devoured them all eagerly. Recommended for fans of literary short fiction of the more daring sort - Hollander's stories would be nicely at home on the bookshelf alongside collections by Caitlin Horrocks, Holly Goddard Jones, Danielle Evans, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Bonnie Jo Campbell and others.

My thanks to the author and publisher for a complimentary review copy of In These Times the Home is a Tired Place.

Happy reading!

1 comment :

  1. Apart from the surprising cover, I wasn't expecting that paragraph to end in such a way. But I like what it suggests about the themes. This sounds very detailed and really good, as a collection if not in terms of happiness. May have to look for this one!


Thanks for visiting - thoughts welcome.