Sunday, January 1, 2017

On "Bewildered" by Carla Panciera ****

Most of the stories in this collection center on loss in some way, and as such have a kind of emotional heft that can be appreciated. The writing tends toward the succinct, which can at times be off-putting, but when Panciera gets going, the manner is effective.

"No Sooner" revolves around a woman who dreams of having affairs while her husband is away from her. Despite her reservations about her in-laws and vice versa, however, she knows how good she has things with the husband she's chosen, even as her sister is watching her own marriage break apart.

The title story is deservedly just that, one of the best in the collection. It recounts the tale of a man who somehow just happens to end up in the right places at the right times. With no real plan in life, but with hard work and dedication, he's ended up well liked and very successful, as well as well married. Or at least, that's how it looks from the outside. Bewildered by his success, he is also bewildered by his seemingly crazy wife, who he both loves and find annoying. Her frequent tantrums with little warning finally, one day, result in her leaving him. What to do is next is not so easy to know, especially for one who has had so many things just work out sans plan.

The very short "Having Your Italy" is a meditation on the ways in which moments in a relationship fade with time, even as we attempt to cherish them.

"Weight" involves a woman dealing with the loss of her partner of many years by spending time with a new man and her brothers. Another story about loss, "Fine Creatures of the Deep," involves two women, neighbors, who despise one another with seeming no explanation. Both lose children. One cannot have another and has replaced it with a dog. In an effort to make peace, she makes soup each day for her neighbor. Do we make such sacrifices, show such love, for another person or for ourselves?

"End of Story" is about a man whose wife has cheated on him and who, as a result, has left the marriage for a younger woman. His recovery from the marriage has not gone well, however, and his pull back into it is something less than satisfactory. The love we had cannot be brought back to what it once was after such damage. I found this one of the more affecting story.

"Singing Donkeys, Happy Families" is about a woman with a crush on a man whose social network is largely a set of hippi families that do child activities together. The woman's attempt to fit into this group lead to strains with her daughters and husband.

"On Being Lonely and Other Theories" is also about infidelity and how such infidelity can destroy the lives of everyone around. Jon Olvey is a cop who is having an affair with his son's schoolteacher whose literal run-in with a dog brings the affair to the community's attention, including his son's, his wife's, and his boss's.

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