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.

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Application Burnout

People underestimate the draining powers of the grad school application. I’ve known for years that I wanted to get my MFA in fiction. I started preparing for this process way back in June 2013, with the intention of spending my entire summer working on perfecting the stories I would use for my writing sample. I would create the perfect personal statement within that time as well, the one that would blow away each and every person reading it.

But we know that none of that actually happened. I was scrambling to complete a shoddy 500 word personal statement this past Sunday and submitting writing samples that are nowhere near done (at least by my standards). I’m not lazy, I promise. I don’t wait until the very last minute to do anything important either. But honestly, even if I finished everything three months ago, would I still have been happy with it? Probably not.

I dragged my feet for so long because I was so worried about pleasing complete strangers. While I was doing these applications, I lost focus on the real reason why I was going through this process and spending a crap-ton of money on applications in the first place. I wanted 24 perfect pages, pages that could be immediately submitted to literary magazines around the country for publication. But I wasn’t writing for myself, and you can only come up with the good stuff when you’re doing it for you. So instead of writing, I sat there worrying about having the perfect plot, the perfect sentence, the perfect imagery, and all of the other stuff that doesn’t matter anyway, because my heart wasn’t in what I was doing the way it should have been. I put too much pressure on myself, which might hurt me in the end.

Either way, I gave it my best shot, and I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time doing this. I have one more application to submit and then I can breathe easy. Then maybe I’ll go back and rip those stories to shreds, without concerning myself with page limits or the use of excessive expletives.

 

Let the NaNo Chaos Begin!

2013-Participant-Facebook-ProfileIt’s NaNoWriMo time! Despite the fact that I’m taking two writing intensive classes at school (more on this later) and applying to grad school this November, I am subjecting myself to the insanity. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the past three years. I’ve participated in Camp NaNo for the past year or so. It’s a part of my DNA now. Granted, I’ve never actually “won” any of these, but that’s okay. I participate because I have to get writing done regardless, so why not take advantage of the extra motivation? I love sitting at my computer knowing that there’s a friendly competition going on with other writers around the world.

When a friend asked me last week if I was going to join in this year, I said absolutely not. How would I find the time? I should’ve known that the minute I received my first PepTalk Email that I would go running back to my computer. I am, however, changing up the rules a bit. Since I never actually win, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If this bothers you, then I’m sorry. I’m still doing it anyway.

I’m not writing a novel. Instead, I’m going to be writing a series of short stories. I know, I know. It’s National Novel Writing Month, not National Short Story Writing Month. But just like in every other aspect of writing, the rules are meant to be broken. My reasoning here is that I don’t have any worthwhile stories to use as part of my grad school applications. Many of the short stories I have no longer “fit” me as a writer. I’ve outgrown them, learned new things, felt new feels, and therefore need to start from scratch again. But the deadlines are looming. This is where that good ol’ NaNo motivation comes in. At 1,667 words a day, I’ll have my 25 page writing sample in no time at all. I promise I won’t stop there, even though it’s safe to say that I’ll probably only get to 13,000 words before I’m ready to rip my hair out.

Now it’s late, and even though I only hit 1,217 words, I’m going to bed. Otherwise I will be very cranky at knitting group tomorrow morning.