Saturday, September 1, 2018

Better Times

Better Times by Sara Batkie
University of Nebraska Press: 9/1/18
eBook review copy; 156 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781496207876

Better Times by Sara Batkie is a highly recommended collection of nine short stories and the winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.
The stories in the collection are divided into three parts, with four stories set in the past, four from the present, and one set in the future. All of the stories feature women or girls, and the experiences or an event they have already gone through in their lives. They are facing depression, uncertain futures, trials or illness and must find their way through the world with the baggage they have already collected.

The writing is quite extraordinary and it is clear why this is an award-winning collection. As with any compilation of short stories, there are hits and misses based on the tastes of individual readers, but it is safe to say that the majority of the stories in this short collection were winners for me.

Part One: The Recent Past
When Her Father Was an Island: A Japanese girl's father is declared MIA after WWII. While she learns to live without him, he continues to serve his country and fight the battle on an unnamed island.
Laika: It is 1957 and a girl in a home for trouble women contemplates the fate of Laika, the first dog in space.
Foreigners: Rebecca, a depressed, divorced mother with a recalcitrant, delinquent teenage son watches out her front window as her Russian neighbor, Anya Demidov, is being arrested. Anya and her husband are being charged with espionage.
No Man’s Land: It is the first summer of Desert Storm and Lucinda, 8, and her sister Addie, 6, are living in Fort Dix, N.J. where their father is a senior drill sergeant. It is also the summer her parent's separated.

Part Two: The Modern Age
Cleavage: Nan, 28, has a mastectomy and struggles with her sexuality along with feeling her phantom removed breast.
North Country, Early Morning: Grace narrates the story of the night two masked armed men planned to rob the emergency room. When the drug delivery is delayed, they force everyone who is working into a stockroom.
Departures: Betsey likes to snoop through the mail of her neighbor, Fabienne, which is how she comes into the possession of the funeral announcement.
Lookaftering: A young woman, Louisa, gives birth to three eggs in a pale lilac color, and undertakes taking care of them.

Part Three: The World to Come
Those Who Left and Those Who Stayed: The ground beneath Sherwood, Alaska split in two, breaking a piece off into the ocean. The nine townspeople who are now stuck on the ice floe struggle with their uncertain survival.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the
University of Nebraska Press.

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