Thirteen stories plumb the depths of love, loss, choices, and connection.
Rousseau’s touching, dynamic collection of tales opens with the longest offering, “Reading to my Mother.” In this novella-length story, a daughter’s emotional devotion is stretched to its limit as she reads “elegant literary pornography” to her mother on her deathbed while a troubled, estranged sibling returns to make amends. When the siblings’ father unexpectedly dies, the family becomes united in grief. Much akin to the author’s debut collection, Inside Stories (2015), what’s contained here are tales associated with life’s unpredictability and bound by both hard and soft circumstances and human kindness. “Statues in a Blue Garden” explores how a Parisian woman reacts when the long-lost beau who abandoned her decades prior unexpectedly returns. Though she still secretly carries a passionate torch for him, she must measure this first love against the comfortable, privileged one that swept her away to a lush life in Paris. Driving to a penitentiary to marry her imprisoned felon boyfriend, the bride-to-be in the lively, vivid “Johnsonville” bonds and lets loose naturally with her future sister-in-law. Rousseau is particularly skilled at getting to the heart of a story and its characters’motivations quickly and without distracting exposition. Just a few paragraphs in to “Aunt Tilly’s Cure for Heartbreak,” readers will already be familiar with the mistress awkwardly seated at the back of a funeral home where her lover, the husband of a friend, is laid to rest. The preservation of books (“They’re our hedge against forgetting,” as one character notes) hangs in the balance in “The Book Finder,” in which a woman must battle a futuristic faction bent on torching all forms of physical literature in favor of digitized cloud space. Also memorable are the fascism survey exposing the true nature of a boss and his calculating subordinate in “Maurissa takes the F-Scale” and the gun-obsessed speed-dater in “Love’s Actuary” who assesses his life and those of potential partners in “micromorts.” Collectively, Rousseau’s tales are grounded by levels of love and humanity, and they all ask a pertinent question about the sustainability of life, the meaning of attraction, or the consequences of people’s actions. Many of the author’s characters discover that the truth (and being honest) is not always the most convenient remedy, but the intimate connections they’ve constructed can move mountains.
Moving and often heart-wrenching tales drawn from the poignant depths of the human experience.