Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: "You Should Pity Us Instead" by Amy Gustine

The characters in You Should Pity Us Instead, Amy Gustine's powerfully moving story collection find themselves in the midst of all kinds of challenges or emotional crises. But while reading 11 stories about people at emotional crossroads may sound harrowing, many of these stories also have a little bit of suspense, some have traces of sly humor, and all are tremendously compelling.

I had never heard of Amy Gustine before finding a mention of this collection in one of Book Riot's weekly emails highlighting new releases. I love finding story collections by new authors, and find that some of the best writers out there are generating such power and emotion within the confines of short stories. Gustine now has a fan in me, that's for sure.

The characters in these stories deal with both everyday and unusual problems. I honestly liked every story in the collection, but my favorites included:
  • "Prisoners Do," in which a radiologist is torn between his loyalty to his wife, who lives with the aftereffects of a stroke, and his lover, who is also a doctor;
  • "AKA Juan," which follows a young man whose adoptive siblings want him to be their ailing mother's caregiver, but he wants to live his own life;
  • "When We're Innocent," in which a man travels to pack up his daughter's apartment after her death, and meets one of her neighbors, who is dealing with his own crisis;
  • "All the Sons of Cain," the story of the mother of a kidnapped Jewish soldier who travels to Gaza to try and find her son;
  • "Half-Life," which follows a young nanny as she cares for a couple's children and navigates the memories of her own troubled childhood; and
  • the title story, about a woman whose life is affected by her husband's book about the hypocrisies of religion and her children's desire to understand what religion is.

Gustine's ear for dialogue, characterization, and language really shows through in these stories. Not all of the stories are perfect, but they do pack a punch, and leave you thinking about them long after you're finished. Not everyone is a fan of short stories, I know, but this is a collection worth reading and savoring.

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