SEPARATE KINGDOMS by Valerie Laken
“He turned his head from side to side, trying to shake the idea away. ‘What on earth is the matter with you? With us?’
Bridge laughed. ‘Nothing. This is just living.’ ”
Review by Jill I. Shtulman Â (MAR 30, 2011)
Just living isnâ€™t the easiest thing in the kingdoms of Valerie Laken. In her psychologically engrossing short story collection, there is always that gaping divide: between countries, cultures, or lovers, or even that schism within ourselves.
In one of the most engrossing of the stories, “Family Planning,” a gay couple â€“ Meg and Josie â€“ travel to Russia to adopt a baby, and are suddenly faced with a choice: the little boy they had expected to bring home or an unknown baby girl. And Josie realizes in a flash, â€śSomeone had to give sooner or later. That was how families and lovers everywhere functioned. It was not just a business thing, it was a kindness people gave to those they loved.â€ť
In another story, “Remedies,” Nick “slips under for a second” and gets involved in a car accident as a result of losing small spells of time. â€śIâ€™ll be going along like a regular person and then poof. Itâ€™s like the world has jumped ahead of me by a couple of minutes.â€ť The future, the past, a vision of the flattest, basest reality all merge for him.
And then thereâ€™s “Before Long,” another story in which a twelve year old blind boy named Anton briefly leaves his orderly and idyllic village life to visit a new American dentist and discovers, â€śThere was no one anywhere, not even the foreigners, who could fix this.â€ť
Perhaps, though, the most inventive of the stories is the titled story, where a family strives to communicate after Colt â€“ the father â€“ loses his thumbs and his livelihood after he sabotages a machine at work. Ms. Lakin relies on a gimmick: a two-column, split-screen format to show the fatherâ€™s viewpointâ€¦and his young son Jackâ€™s thoughts. ;While disconcerting at first, the conceit actually works: the reader can visually see the schism caused by lack of communication and connection and the deep divide that ensues. Colt has confined himself to a â€śreject room;â€ť his son, Jack, is yearning for connection, at least with his classmates. As Colt is confronted by his former boss (on one side of the screen), Jack is drowning out the sounds with his drum-playing (Guh Duh Guh Guh Duh.) And, as Colt cries out, â€śI am not one of you!â€ť at the retreating back of the lawyer, Jack is indeed trying to be â€śone of youâ€ť by taping his thumbs back to experience what his father is going through. It is indeed visually and emotively powerful.
Ultimately, Valerie Laken â€“ a Pushcart Prize-winning author â€“ focuses her attention on the connections we need to make us whole by reaching out beyond our self-imposed borders. Itâ€™s a laudable achievement.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 1 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper Perennial; Original edition (March 29, 2011)|
|REVIEWER:||Jill I. Shtulman|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Valerie Laken|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More short stories collections:
The Sweet Relief of Missing Children by Sarah Braunstein
Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle