- In Envy Country by Joan Frank
I often find myself frustrated by short stories since the format tends to prohibit the kind of in-depth, rounded characters that I look for when I read. Joan Frank, however, manages to make me rethink the genre. In Envy Country is a collection of stories, all fully independent from one another (vs. the overlapping characters/story-lines favored in recent years).
Many of the stories look at women and their relationships. In addition to the more common focus on relations between men and women, many of Frank's pieces examine relationships between women -- A college-aged woman watching an older woman interact at a dinner party; A woman reflecting on her step-sister's teen years; A story narrated by a woman recalling a female coworker; and Two women talking about the unexpected twists in the life of a girl who'd been popular in school.
There is also a heavy emphasis on perception such as one story in which a woman watches a picture-perfect couple fight and another involving a woman telling a story about how differently men and women reacted to a very well-endowed. I particularly enjoyed this element of the collection, especially the clear recognition of the paradox (not quite the right word) of writing/reading stories about observation.
I enjoyed this collection. There were a few pieces I could leave, but I suppose the beauty of short stories is that those end soon. Overall, I enjoyed Frank's clear voice and the depth of emotion and strength of character contained in the stories. Four stars (of five).