Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"If I'd Known You Were Coming," by Kate Milliken

The short stories in Kate Milliken’s “If I’d Known You Were Coming” (University of Iowa Press, 2013) are full of quirks, hard edges, sharp angles, and surprises. The characters are often confused, and confusing, but still make witty remarks and offer sharp observations. The women characters in particular are very bright but sometimes make strange decisions, often about relationships. The narrator in “Man Down Below,” for example, moves away from her apartment in order to get away from a stalker neighbor, yet when she runs into him later, is strangely drawn to him. “No, no, no!” you want to exhort her, but being a mere reader, you are helpless to change the course of the story; you cannot sway her from her clearly unsuitable feelings and actions. Some characters appear in more than one story, allowing us to get to know them better on each appearance, yet still mysteriously changing and disappearing at will. The final story, “Inheritance,” starts off uneventfully, but after a while we see how sad and sick one of the main characters is, and must watch helplessly as she self destructs, but at least is supported by her new friend in his inherited house. And somehow, even in her self-destruction, this character manages to keep and display a flash of her personality, and make us wonder if she will perhaps survive after all.

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