A Review: Heather Slomski’s “The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons”

Iowa Short Fiction Award. 146 pages University Of Iowa Press. Release Date: October 1, 2014

First, a general disclaimer: I received an uncorrected proof of this book through the publisher. I am not being compensated in any way for this review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

 

The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons is Healther Slomski’s first published work and the winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award. It is a collection of fifteen short stories of varying lengths that examine the delicate nature of human relationships and the ways in which we deal with loss. Slomski’s work joins reality with the surreal. In the title story, we are sitting in a restaurant observing two unfaithful couples coming together to acknowledge their shortcomings. Two stories later, we find ourselves engrossed in the tale of a store mannequin’s lost love.

Loss remains a consistent theme throughout, but the stories always seems to be accompanied by hope. The first story in the collection, the title story, gave me the warm feeling of a second chance despite the chaos the characters find themselves in. The last story, “Before the Story Ends,” was effectively able to reduce me to tears, which is a rare occurrence. Despite all of the sadness, the last line was eerily uplifting.

Slomski writes beautiful, flowing prose with many quote-worthy passages. It doesn’t feel as though she is trying hard to impress us, and I love that she could take situations that seem so mundane and turn them into something magical.

However, the endings she chose for a few of her pieces left me frustrated. I don’t always expect closure when a story comes to an end, but some of Slomski’s last lines felt abrupt and unfinished and wanting something else. I understand that this is a stylistic choice and that many readers love it when endings are left wide open for interpretation. It just doesn’t work for me personally. That’s not to say I appreciate her work less. It’s just a difference in technique.

Bottom line: yes, I do recommend this book to anyone who appreciates literary short fiction. I give it 4/5 stars and will be looking forward to any future publications.

The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons won’t be released until October, but it’s available for pre-order here.

A Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe reviews for Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch seem to go one of two ways. Readers are either absolutely in love or vehemently despise it. I personally have given it a four-star rating on Goodreads because I haven’t been this emotionally attached to a book in a long time. It may be worth mentioning, however, that I experienced the novel as an audiobook, which provides a very different experience from that of the hardcover version.

Like most longer pieces of fiction, it’s difficult to sum up the plot of this story because there are so many different threads. Thirteen year-old Theo Decker miraculously survives a New York museum bombing that results in his mother’s death. Before running to safety, he takes Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting The Goldfinch from the wall. For the next 700 or so pages (30 hours for me), readers follow Theo and the painting on a journey that spans fifteen years and a lot of lies, drug use, and heartache.

The length of The Goldfinch is probably one of its biggest criticisms. The problem with a book this large is that the few people daring enough to undertake such a task eventually lose interest in slow-moving plots.  I did find myself questioning more than once Tartt’s emphasis on Boris and Theo’s illicit habits and their repetitive drunken blackouts. I agree that many of the scenes could have been reduced by half. But Theo’s philosophical insights and Tartt’s poetic and mesmerizing sentences did wonders for the pacing of the story.

I personally love long books in general because I am allowed to grow up with the characters, and I found myself growing very attached to Theo. He did nothing in the book to really earn this endearment, of course, considering what a pathological liar he is. But there is something captivating about him that I really can’t put into words. I felt empathy and became excited when I found common bonds, even though I should hate him. The book ended and I found myself at a loss. I wanted more, wanted to see how the rest of his life was going to play out.

While this only applies to the audiobook version, it’s worth mentioning that David Pittu is probably one of the best audiobook readers I’ve ever come across. He gives each character in The Goldfinch a distinct voice, which makes every conversation more animated. Boris’ accent would not have felt quite as real to me if I had to attempt it in my head, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make the sentences in Russian sound realistic whatsoever. I would still love to read the hardcover version when I have time to spare, since lack of free time was the reason I went with the audiobook in the first place.

I encourage everyone to read The Goldfinch. I haven’t talk so much about a book in a long time. Any book that takes me on an emotional roller coaster like Tartt’s did deserves a chance, even if most of the reviews aren’t stacked in her favor. As for me, I’ve added Tartt’s earlier works to my “To-Read” list, in the hopes that they will touch and inspire me as much as The Goldfinch has.

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)
The Goldfinch, 1654