Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Marry or Burn"

The eye-catching title of Valerie Trueblood’s collection of short stories, “Marry or Burn” (Counterpoint, 2010), is of course reminiscent of the apostle Paul’s statement in the New Testament that it is better to remain celibate if possible, but if not, “It is better to marry than burn.” The final, longest story in this collection, “Beloved, You Looked Into Space,” sets up this very opposition, and ends with a happy marriage despite threats and complications of various types, including a possible forest fire that fortunately does not materialize. These stories are full of wonderful, complex portrayals of relationships among spouses, family members, lovers, and others. There are several insightful stories about marriage. Another strength of these stories is the portrayal of relationships among sisters and woman friends. The tone of the stories is both matter of fact and dreamy, as if the characters -- and by extension we readers –- move through life in a sort of dazed haze, accepting and absorbing the inevitable bitter along with the gift of the sweet. There are complicated love affairs, a fair amount of adultery, and complicated families with lots of step-relatives. There are estrangements and reconciliations. Trueblood’s stories manage to be both very realistic and beautifully imaginative. Somehow, throughout, my main impression was one of grace, not necessarily earned or predictable, and not necessarily in traditional forms, but pervasive. It took me a story or two to get caught up in this collection, but once I did, I was enchanted and impressed.

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