Short stories designed to push readers out of their comfort zone | Books and Authors

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The problem with short stories is you end up with the characters and the emotions, and maybe the mystery, and suddenly the story ends. You are disappointed, wishing that turning the page would bring more of the things you had been absorbed into.

But Carol Dines’ collection of short stories manages to capture something more than the reader’s attachment to characters or the teasing of a plot. Each of her stories in “This Distance We Call Love” (Orison Books) is a powerful nudge, leaving you impatient for the next situation, the next cast of characters, the next elbow.

It focuses on family, trust, marriage, fear, sex, loss, abandonment and the strength and danger of a child’s imagination. The 13 stories that are as different in focus as they are similar in emotional power.

A HAUNTING AND EMOTIONAL COLLECTION OF STORIES

In “Almost,” the opening story, the hapless sister of a compassionate woman lives a life that strains the patience – patience and gullibility – of all around her. She’s hard not to like. Her carelessness is remarkable, however, when the woman defends her sister: “She doesn’t hurt anyone,” her husband replies, “She hurts you.

The love triangle in “Ice Bells” is juxtaposed with a family reunion where Willa, our protagonist, agonizes over the inhibitions of her own heart, her capacity for betrayal and her biological identity. When there is an opening, an icy emergency exit, it takes it, but it is short-lived and damaging. Dines leaves his readers there, having created an end to the story which is almost a relief.

A little girl named Grace, enrolled in a progressive school whose curriculum focuses on saving rainforests and their inhabitants, pushes participation in her classes a little too far, perhaps by unsettling her parents. The story is visual and tacky, the ending, like many others in the collection, abrupt and haunting.

LEAVE READERS TO FEEL BOTH UNBALANCED AND ENCLOSED

Dines has mastered the art of dancing around emotion and engagement perfectly, teasing her readers with happy ending promises and stopping just before. She explores the world around her in search of situations that seem ordinary on the surface but, when examined, provide stories that merge together, sometimes uncomfortably. The result can sometimes leave readers off balance, but they will also feel embraced. A family buys a dog; a girl is harassed; a husband misses the wife he wants; a child is killed; a marriage suffers.

“This Distance We Call Love” is a collection of perceptually adult works, but Dines is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories for young adults, which probably explains the authentic characterizations of children in this collection. They are wise, impenetrable, and sometimes catalytic. “People disappear in so many ways,” the girl says wistfully in “Vanishes”. Another girl, disappointed in love and friendship, clears her locker at the tennis club where she just lost a match, but it doesn’t matter. Not anymore. “This world had also started to feel small,” she decides.

The world of Dines is anything but small. “This Distance We Call Love” is a beautiful sweep of fine writing and unforgettable characters.

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