If you’re tired of choosing something to watch on one of your half dozen streaming services, maybe it is time to read a short story instead. They may be the perfect antidote to binge watching.
Elizabeth McCracken’s newest collection, The Souvenir Museum, is a good place to start. There are a dozen stories here, the longest only 26 pages. About half of it has already been released, and four show a couple named Sadie and Jack. Her stories don’t appear sequentially or even chronologically, so it’s a refreshing surprise to have a look at her life every few stories. We are treated to a family wedding in Ireland, their honeymoon in Holland, an insightful episode with Sadie’s mother in Massachusetts, and their “Meet Cute” doll story in Boston.
Short stories generally require a little more focus than the slow build and wider frame of a novel. Fortunately, McCracken is adept at packing a lot of meaning into just a few lines. “She knew that her maternal love would always be mean to play a part: sometimes you needed a blade to get results,” writes McCracken in “A Continuous Human Heart,” when a mother contemplates giving one to her pregnant daughter to buy a mechanical doll that chews and excretes real food. Or back to this genesis with Sadie and Jack (“Two sad clowns”): “That was the special thing about being in love: You were allowed to hate things,” wrote McCracken when the couple joked shortly after the meeting.
The story of the same name in the collection is a real gem and introduces readers to Joanna and her teenage son Leo on vacation in Denmark. Joanna tells her son that the purpose of the trip is to visit Legoland, but it turns out that Leo’s absent father also lives there. With that in mind, McCracken gives us beautiful glimpses like this when Joanna listens to Leo, who discourages the idea that Viking helmets had horns: “A year and a half before Leo could read, but after he started talking, Joanna had it all Known head, thoughts and horrors, facts and passions. … All the time now he had thoughts that she hadn’t put in his head, that she knew was the point of having children, but destroyed them. “
Do yourself a favor and read the book. McCracken has provided a lovely collection of stories loosely linked by one theme – the family bonds that break and heal when lives are lived.
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