Book Review: New in Fiction
Ward has a heart for women, and these stories underscore that fact
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., April 10, 2009
Love Stories In This Townby Amanda Eyre Ward
Ballantine Books, 224 pp., $14
Love Stories in This Town sees Austin novelist Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Sleep Toward Heaven: A Novel (2003), How to Be Lost: A Novel (2004), and Forgive Me (2007), return to her original milieu, the short story. In fact, "Miss Montana's Wedding Day," arguably the centerpiece story of this collection, won third place in The Austin Chronicle's Short Story Contest in 1999; it was the writer's first published work. Ward has a heart for women, as all of her previous work will attest; these stories underscore that fact. Where issues of domesticity and maternity are often dismissed or idealized in the cultural imagination, Ward here makes an argument for how very important such matters are with characters written so intricately and carefully that they are very nearly real themselves, in all their ambivalence and agony. "Butte as in Beautiful" captures the bathos of everyday life, as a saucy young librarian negotiates the tensions between the unintentional hilarity of a library masturbator and the harsh reality of the temptation to settle for what's left amid the shards of shattered dreams. "On Messalonskee Lake" depicts the paradoxical death of a marriage borne of a couple's first baby. Other stories – "Shakespeare.com," "The Way the Sky Changed," and "Should I Be Scared?" – use significant cultural/historical events as the backdrop for these domestic dramas: The war on terror poisons a young couple about to embark on starting a family, a woman seeks answers in unusual places for her infertility as she labors at a failing dot-com, a 9/11 widow and widower replace their deceased spouses with each other. This is not cheerful stuff but necessary portraits of life in the 21st century. Most moving, though, is the book's second half, called "Lola Stories," which follows the life of the heartbroken girl of "Miss Montana's Wedding Day." Lola moves through the vagaries of loss, an unlikely love story, life in the Middle East, and motherhood with grace and no small amount of insecurity; she is human and deeply flawed, and the reader can't help but love her, largely because Ward so clearly does. This is Ward's gift: She makes writing about being human and female look easy while simultaneously inviting empathy for the female experience in these complicated times.