Jessica Francis Kane does it again with This Close: Stories

Monday, October 22, 2012

I met Jessica Francis Kane a few months after the publication of her electrifying novel, The Report.  She was in town, having a book conversation.  We had a chance to talk.  We've stayed in touch and not long ago the galleys of hew new book, This Close: Stories (Graywolf, March 2013), arrived by mail.  I was ecstatic.

I read the first four of these dozen stories while on the train home from New York City this past Saturday night. There is, perhaps, no better reading zone—a dark night, a quiet train, the lull of forward motion. Jessica's stories do what excellent short stories must; they involve their readers at once.  They settle in as if the characters were always there, as if you have always been privy to their secrets, their flaws.  "Lucky Boy" is, at first, matter of fact:  "Something about New York City makes a lot of people understand you should try to look your best.  Tourists, for example, often wear brand-new shoes and socks."  Hmmm, you think, why this as a place to start not just a story but a collection, and then it's clear:  There is something deep and soul-agitating at work right here, something profound being telegraphed about relationships between those paid to take care and those who pay, about innocence and dependence.

Time is brilliantly managed in "Lucky Boy."  Things happen at a rapid clip and yet we never feel breathless, never feel excluded from the months and years in between scenes, when a friend becomes a girlfriend becomes a wife becomes a slate of opinions our narrator isn't quite sure he buys.  It's quite a trick.  No, it's quite a skill.  The laconic narrator is deeply observant.  He lets on and lets in, but sparely, almost non-judgmentally.  Almost.
There's a deli Christina and I patronize now on the corner of Lexington and Seventy-Seventh.  To some I saw we're friends with the owner, but I recognize the relationship for what it is.  We are the parents with a jog stroller who buy lox when friends are in town and many other specialty items on a regular basis.  He is the owner who makes us feel special....
The next three pieces in the book are equally unusual, engrossing, unexpected.  The stories aren't extreme in their limning of modern life, nor are they are stories we've read before.  They are interesting and well-metered, small jealousies, odd victories, exploded scenes.  I can't wait to read the rest of the stories (some interconnected, some not), but I did not want to wait any longer to tell you (and to tell Jessica, too) how happy I am for her new book.

Welcome home, JFK.


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