Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Bigness of the World

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund
Scribner reissue: 2/16/16
eBook review copy: 232 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501117879
originally published in 2009

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund is a highly recommended award winning collection of eleven short stories originally published in 2009. This review copy is for the eBook and the paperback release. As a debut collection, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize.

Contents include: The Bigness of the World; Bed Death; Talking Fowl with My Father; The Day You Were Born; Nobody Walks to the Mennonites; Upon Completion of Baldness; And Down We Went; Idyllic Little Bali; Dr. Daneau’s Punishment; The Children Beneath the Seat; All Boy; an Excerpt from 'After the Parade.'

Common themes presented are emotional isolation and reserve, separation, complex and deteriorating relationships, disappointments, the loss of love, and the pain of loss. Many of the damaged relationships depicted are either between two women or children and parents. In many stories the women involved are teaching in foreign countries. There is a similarity in the characters and the circumstances in several of the stories which can feel repetitive.

All of the stories are exquisitely well written but, honestly, all of the stories are also profoundly sad, or at least they left me feeling sad and reflecting on the loss and isolation that is present in these fragile lives. It might behoove the reader to take these little gems one at a time, and take a break between reading them. An excellent collection, but the emotional heaviness it leaves you with begs considering refraining from reading them all at once. This would also help with the feeling that several stories are very similar to each other and simply repeating the same theme in a slightly different way.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Scribner for review purposes.

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