Saturday, July 6, 2013

"Little Sinners," by Karen Brown

I feel happy when I think I have “discovered” a “new” writer whose work I find I like very much. I had never heard of the writer Karen Brown before, but when I saw her small collection of short stories, “Little Sinners” (University of Nebraska Press, 2012) on the “new book shelf” of my university library, something told me to pick it up and check it out. Perhaps it was the contrast between its modest, university-press appearance, its author's common name, and, on the other hand, the provocative title. This book won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, and I can see why. (Of course a book that has won a prize and been published cannot be said to need “discovering” by me, but the work is just new enough, and as far as I can tell, not reviewed in the major newspapers and magazines, that I will preserve the feeling of having “discovered” Brown, at least for myself!) The stories are a fascinating blend of the very concrete and the slightly mysterious. The situations seem both real and just beyond one’s understanding. They are psychologically intriguing, character-focused, yet with compelling plots. Most of the stories take place in East Coast suburbs and small towns, some of them with working class roots, some not. There are many secrets and much pain. Yet the overall feeling of the book is not all sad and depressing; there are notes of hope. Even the characters in bad situations don’t necessarily seem desperate, and in fact sometimes seem curious to see what will happen next. Some of the stories have an elegiac tone. The overriding feeling, though, is of matters strange and haunting. Throughout, I had the sense that I was in very good hands, and that Karen Brown is a writer to watch out for. I hope to read more by her.

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