Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Envy Country -- A Strong Collection by Joan Frank

Despite good intentions, I haven't blogged recently.  I did intend to write about the day they pulled my Aquacise class out of the pool and spilled us onto the parking lot (at least we were given the nod to dress first and it was fairly warm despite flurries the week prior!) because of a suspicious sound in a mailbox (spoiler alert: it was a LifeAlert style device that was vibrating bc it was separated from its tether).  I also have had many a "deep thought" as my next surgery quickly approaches.  But I didn't write about any of it is my book review habit that brings me back, even though this is a rare time when the book was not given to me in exchange for a review (I bought it used many months ago and it sat lonely for some time).

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).