Thursday, March 14, 2019
WHAT IT MIGHT FEEL LIKE TO HOPE
Dorene O'Brien was a member of a writing group I belonged to a decade ago. Dorene, hands down, was the best and most thorough critic. She taught creative writing at a college and had honed her skills over the years. Whereas the rest of us might write two paragraphs of criticism, Dorene would write two pages. It was as if she digested it and spit it back decidedly improved.
Her writing was also exceptional. And none of us were surprised when Wayne State University offered to publish a collection of her stories. (VOICES OF THE LOST AND FOUND). We were also not surprised when she stacked up various awards like Lego blocks.
Her second collection of stories debuted last week. Dorene writes about-- to quote a line from her book "women with tar-stained teeth and men carted from the automotive plant." This is an unusual cast of characters among literary writers. Most choose to spend their time with the upper middle-class or with academic types. Her writing is elegant, precise, original. I would compare her to Bonnie Jo Campbell and Mary Gaitskill, Her stories are pitch dark although they are not crime stories.
The title story is my favorite. It is a pas de deux between a mortician and a fiction writer who specializes in novels where dying characters are miraculously spared death. However, the writer is blocked due to the ill health of his beloved wife. He can no longer spare his characters death when he is unable to save his wife.
The mortician is both attracted to and disturbed by his writing. If death is the inevitable outcome of life, the writer should acknowledge it. So this is the dilemma Ms. O'Brien sets up and deals with handily.
Also enjoyable is a story about a writer who dreams of attracting Tom Hanks with a perfect script about zombies, or the story of a man who finds his ex is now writing romance novels, or the woman in a tearoom with tarot cards who susses out Detroit's fate. There is not a dull story in the bunch.
Most admired in each of these stories is the quality of the writing. She is incapable of writing a boring sentence. Every character is fully developed, familiar, and yet unique.
If I was reviewing this book and the writer was unknown to me, I would probably praise it more. But because I have been reading Dorene's stories for a decade or more, I have come to expect just what this book gives us-exquisite writing.