Amy Parker * Mariner Books * February 2, 2016 & 320 Pages
Good Lord, this is one strange and dark collection of stories. It reminds me a lot of Flannery O’Connor’s stuff (like A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories): weird and horribly sad, but also sweet and redeeming in its own way. The stories are beautifully written and seamlessly woven together. Each story is its own vignette, but all of them relate to each other in some way (kind of like Olive Kitteridge).
The world in these pages is so completely dismal and cruel. The people are walking around in a haze, absolutely shell-shocked by the neglect and abuse they have experienced. There is a quiet goodness in these characters, but no one is strong or stable or rising above. No one is overcoming, and, certainly, no one is happy. The people simply exist because they aren’t dead yet.
Ironically, one of the most uplifting passages in the book comes at the end (ironic because I’m not sure it’s very uplifting at all) when Hector tells Cecilia, “My pain is so huge…my body, my heart, everything tender and bruised… What choice do I have? I am here. I am alive. Life chose me. I have been broken open where I wanted to fall apart. Now everywhere I go, I seek out softness. The generosity, the places that offer comfort.” I THINK that’s our happy ending, but, yowza. It’s still pretty dang bleak.
Honestly, I finished this book and felt like I wanted to hide in my closet and cry for a week. And yet! I’ll tell you, reading Beasts and Children was an Experience. It made me connect and feel. I loved it, and I hated it–and then I kept reading more. Ultimately, I would say that this is definitely a book worth checking out, just be sure to hide the knives first.