Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken

Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken is a collection of eight short stories, three of which take place in Russia and the remaining five which take place in the United States. Although the stories are unrelated, Laken shows the distinct differences between these two 'kingdoms' and different aspects of living in each country is explored throughout the collection. Many of the characters in Laken's writing are somehow damaged, there is a boy who is blind, a man who looses his thumbs, and a woman who has had her leg amputated. Even those who are not physically impaired often have another barrier to overcome, for example a lesbian couple looking to adopt a child. None of the characters in Separate Kingdoms are perfect, instead they are all human.

Laken's writing is quiet yet satisfying and her perceptive way of looking at the word is both appealing and bleak. Although many of her stories end without a clear resolution, they manage to feel complete, each one a distinct moment in time. In "Family Planning" two women travel from the United States to Russia to adopt a child, but as same-sex adoptions are not allowed they must pretend to only be friends. When they arrive, they find there is a second child also available and they must choose between the two children and decided which one to take home. Each woman wants a different child, and the decision they are forced to make is heartbreaking. In the story, Laken writes "A family was a thing that stretched out beyond where you left off, made meaning of you." This is a perfect summary for the collection, which is full of Laken looking into ordinary lives and making meaning out of ordinary moments.

The characters in the collection are troubled and confused, and the premise behind the stories is frequently an unhappy one. Ultimately, Separate Kingdoms is a strong and memorable collection because of the realistic ordinary darkness it contains and Laken's strong and beautiful voice does an incredible job of telling these stories. 

Release Date: March 29th, 2011
Pages: 224
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

1 comment:

  1. My book club reads one short story collection each year - sounds like this one would be a good book to suggest for this year's pick.

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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