The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons by Heather A. Slomski
University of Iowa, 2014
Poetry; 146 pgs
A blurb from the publisher about The Lovers Set Their Spoons Down:
In the fifteen stories that comprise this collection—some short as breaths, two of them novelettes—Slomski writes with a keen eye about relationships. About the desires that pull us together and the betrayals that push us apart. About jealousy, obsession, loneliness and regret—the byproducts of loving someone that keep us awake at night.
The above description describes this literary fiction collection well. The author delves into the mundane and ordinariness of life while capturing the desires, feelings and thoughts of those in relationships in such a way as to make the reader share in the characters' experiences. Writing wise, I thought this collection was well done, and at times beautiful. I only wish there had been more hope in the occasional story, even if not happy endings exactly. This is perhaps more my personal preference though than a reflection on the book. I prefer a variety and at times the sameness in terms of tone of the stories had me setting the book down so I wouldn't become too melancholy. As it was, each story left me feeling a bit sad and contemplative, some more than others.
Among my favorites was the title story, which, with the very first paragraph I felt the sense of awkwardness of the situation the characters were in--a woman sitting down for a meal with her husband, her husband's former lover and her boyfriend. Written in almost a play like format, the reader gets an idea of just how awkward everyone must feel, especially the narrator. The narrator's eyes keep returning to another couple dining in the same restaurant--an interesting juxtaposition to her own situation.
Another favorite was "Iris and the Inevitable Sorrow, or The Knock at the Door" if only because of the title. I rarely copy quotes down, but I really liked what Mirek, Iris's neighbor, says after Iris's boyfriend leaves her for another woman:
"Being alone is not so terrible. You can have more charge of your life when you are alone. Not complete charge--no one can have that--just more." His spoon made a soft chime when he set it against his saucer. "But first you must stop being in love." (pg 68)
Admittedly, this was one of the longer stories and so there was more time for the story to develop and come together more fully. This one took a turn in the end I had not expected.
I also really liked the second story in the collection, the brief story titled, "The Chair". In this story, there is much that isn't said, but which the reader gets a feel for by the seller's behavior. My heart went out to him, wondering who it is he had lost (perhaps his wife?) that has brought him to that moment--because it so obviously isn't just the chair. For me, this is the story in which the author's writing really shined.
Perhaps the story that hit me the hardest was one titled, "Before the Story Ends". My journal notes on this story simply read: "I have no words. This one brought tears to my eyes, touching me too close to home." It was the final story in the collection and perhaps the most powerful. At least for me.
There were other stories I liked as well, one about a widow who visits the same cafe every day, another story about a couple of shoppers who cannot stop bickering over the last box of soap, and ones about missed opportunities and regrets, betrayal and distrust, and about lives just passing by.
I wasn't as enamored with other stories, feeling like I missed something or didn't quite understand what I was supposed to be getting from them. I find that with short story collections like this though--not every story resonates with me the way others might.
Some of these stories had a more surreal feel to them while others were more down to earth. I liked the variety, even if I wish it hadn't been so sad over all. The author is able to say much in just a few words, especially when it comes to conveying emotion and tone. This is a skill I admire in a writer and isn't always so easily mastered. I think readers who enjoy literary fiction in its short form or character studies would most be drawn to this collection.
To learn more about author Heather A. Slomski and her work, please visit the author's website. You can also find her Goodreads.
Source: Many thanks to Laura of Booksnob for sharing this book with me through our postal bookclub!