Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review: "Damage Control: Stories" by Amber Dermont

In the hands of a talented writer, short stories can have almost a transcendent quality, an ability to transport you into the minds of unique characters and memorable situations. I was a huge fan of Amber Dermont's debut novel, The Starboard Sea (in fact, it was one of my favorite books I read last year), so I was excited to read her new short story collection, Damage Control. And after reading the 14 stories in this collection, I was pleased to see that her writing ability continues to grow, and her career is definitely one I will continue to follow.

The characters in Dermont's stories don't follow one particular pattern—some are overly confident while some are unsure of themselves, some are lucky in love while some fight to find it. I really enjoyed nearly every story in this collection—some made me laugh, some made me think, some even made me slightly emotional, but each has remained in my mind, which I've often said is one of the hallmarks of a great writer.

Among my favorite stories were The Language of Martyrs, in which a woman tries to outsmart her boyfriend's mother but realizes that her motivations aren't quite what she imagined; Sorry, You Are Not a Winner, which told the story of a former rich girl forced to work as a maid while she cares for her ailing parents, but she never quite leaves her old mentality behind; Lyndon, in which a teenage girl and her mother take a trip to Lyndon Johnson's birthplace as a tribute to her late father; Afternoons in the Museum of Childhood, where a teenage girl who had been kidnapped by a man who called himself Messiah (a la Elizabeth Smart) deals with her life back home with her parents; and the title story, about a man who works at an etiquette school while his fiancée battles embezzlement charges and he battles scandals among the students.

A few of the stories were a little more experimental than I would have liked, but by and large, this is a tremendously entertaining and compelling collection. Dermont's voice is fresh and lively, and her stories are quite memorable. If you're a short story fan, this is a collection worth exploring. If you're not a fan of short stories, definitely pick up her novel The Starboard Sea. And remember—this author is one we'll be hearing about for a long time to come.

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