Published by Serving House Books on December 4, 2013
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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Both the beauty and frailty of human connections are seen in the thirteen stories collected in Sympathetic People. Here are women and men struggling to find love, meaning, happiness in marriage, adulterous affairs, art, meditation, and even the passage from life to death. Longing generated by loss is everywhere--in the death of a son, the end of a marriage, the slide from hope ignited by Neil Armstrong’s moon walk to hopelessness after President Kennedy’s death. In “Hindsight,” Jessie, a hippie in Lawrence, Kansas, opts for what she assumes is stability in a world of change, only to be brought up short years later when her life veers off its predicted path. “The Secrets of Snakes” reveals the early ruptures in a marriage and a wife’s futile attempts to stop them even as she tries to care for her son’s pet racer. In “The Jewel Box,” a grandmother promises to let her granddaughter know what Heaven is like after she passes and if, in fact, it looks like the Art Deco greenhouse built in St. Louis during the 1904 World’s Fair. And in “Versions,” a newlywed in Plano, Texas, entertains her sometimes angry husband’s first wife and realizes too late what she has given up in choosing him. “The Second Time the Bird Escapes” brings the collection full circle as a woman vies for attention with her husband’s new girlfriend and watches a peacock race across the yard to freedom, its dazzling tail open like an invitation.
These may be short stories, but each one is chock full of substance and detail. Donna Baier Stein has an understated, quiet way of capturing the reader’s attention; no fuss, no showiness. Each story was engaging and satisfying (“News Feed” was probably my favorite), but I didn’t exactly have any kind of “wow” response immediately upon finishing the collection. Instead, the stories stayed with me. I thought about those characters and their situations… and after they’d simmered in my mind for several days, all at once I felt the weight of how great this short story collection is. Sympathetic People is one I’d read again in the future, and I don’t feel that way very often. Fantastic read.