Monday, January 31, 2011

The Mother Who Stayed: Stories by Laura Furman

The Mother Who Stayed: Stories by Laura Furman is a collection of nine short stories, divided into three trios in which the stories are connected. When I first read about it, I was eagerly anticipating its release, but unfortunately the stories were dull and unemotional resulting in a disappointing experience for the book as a whole.

The first story, "The Eye" definitely didn't suck me into the book. I felt like there were details that were unimportant, like what some girls grew up to become, that were never referenced again or actually related to the story. It felt like a wisp of something, and seemed more like an excerpt than something complete. By the second story "The Hospital" I had begun to fall in love with Furman's writing but craved more from the stories themselves, this one in particular provides a glance into a mother who is sick in the hospital and her daughter and friend both come to visit her. The basic premise has so much potential and yet Furman barely glazes the surface. What she does touch on is beautifully described, for example she writes:
"Eva's lips parted and she touched them with her tongue. Love, she meant to say, love was always wonderful, no matter, no matter, no penalty for love. This wasn't true. She wanted to say something that was true."
I wanted more than a few lovely sentences, I wanted the stories to fill me with passion and emotion and in that regard they failed. The final story in the third section centers is written in the third person, "The Thief" is the story of Rachel, taking place three years after her mother's death, as she spends occasional afternoons with her friend from camp Caitlin who has an abusive boyfriend. When Caitlin's mother's pearls go missing Rachel is the first suspect. The tension between Rachel and the man from the insurance agency was incredibly well done, and I loved how Furman wrote about Rachel wondering if she actually had taken them, and if so where they had gone. The reader got soaked into that slightly fantastical world of childhood friendships and how they are not always two-sided. But once again, the story was but a glimpse into a world.

The second third of the book begins with "A Thousand Words" in which a widower deals with her husband's sudden death. Following his death, she begins to write of the beginning of her marriage, just as an old and flaky friend, Marian, from that portion of her life reconnects with her. I was mostly indifferent to it. "Here It Was, November" centers on a biographer writing on Marian's life after she has died, attempting to guarantee both of their places as writers.
"Working in the service of the dead, biographers quit their labors only when the sole remaining task is the impossible- resurrection."
In "The Blue Wall" Marian's daughter Dorothea who she gave up for adoption deals with the lost of her adopted parent and takes in Marian when she becomes ill.

The third trio of the book includes "The Blue Birds Come Today" which contains more names and dates than a reader could reasonably be expected to keep straight, especially in a short story. Each character is so briefly and sparsely described that it is impossible to form a connection to any of them, or have any emotional reaction to the story of a family with many children, many of whom die of various illness at a young age, in the mid 1800s.  In the next story, "Plum Creek", Dinah and her father have been abandoned by her mother, but travel to attend the funeral anyway, ultimately returning to their home in Plum Creek. I wanted passionate emotion from Dinah, a young girl who has lost her mother twice, but instead Furman wrote with the same detached style which failed to capture my heart.

The collection ends with the title story, "The Mother Who Stayed" which is by far the longest story in the book and after being let down by the stories so far I hoped this final one would redeem it. It picks up with Dinah again, several decades later after her husband has passed on. Childless, she instead takes an interest in a local girl, Amber, and pays her to transcribe dairies she's found in her house, which the woman from the 1800s had kept. As Dinah and Amber try to discover what happen to their owner, she hopes this is an opportunity for Amber to leave the abusive relationship she is in. "The Mother Who Stayed" is by far the best story in the collection, which proved what I feel about Furman's writing which is that she is at her best when she gives the story space to develop. Unfortunately, most of the stories in The Mother Who Stayed barely skim the surface of the deep issues they attempt to address, leaving the reader unconnected to the characters and uninterested in the outcome.

Release Date: February 1, 2011
Pages: 224
Overall: 2/5
Source: E-galley from Publisher 
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the honest review -- how disappointing! I'd be curious about this collection but your comment I wanted more than a few lovely sentences, I wanted the stories to fill me with passion and emotion convinced me not to bother. That's what I'm looking for as well.


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