I Knew You’d Be Lovely
Alethea Black

Hardcover/240 pages
ISBN: 978-0307886033
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". . . the stories like a box of literary chocolates."

Haunting, sad, lovely, and occasionally incongruous.

In this collection of short stories, Alethea Black writes about relationships in all its many incarnations. Some of the stories are sad and others are surprising and show a moment of undisguised humanity.

In That of Which We Cannot Speak, Bradley, a Brit, is in New York City while his ex-wife, an American, is in Islington, England, each leading separate lives. Bradley’s looks for answers far from his home in hopes of jarring loose what went wrong with his marriage and finding confusion. The reader ends up a bit confused as well.

A fiery-maned woman sits for a nude painting by a Jewish artist in The Laziest Form of Revelation and asks lots of questions. Misha, the artist, answers them but not completely, or at least that is what the model thinks. As she is being examined and catalogued in paint, she examines and catalogues Misha in words and assumptions, seeking to shake him loose from what she sees as his firm foundations. To paraphrase Black, this story is a fish that I thought was a rabbit. It must have been the carrots.

In the title short story, Hannah is married to Tom and she wants to shows she knows him and only she could give him the perfect birthday gift. Then there is Sydney, a writer Tom met at a retreat with whom he corresponds and Hannah is jealous. She tries not to be jealous, and she decides to prove it by inviting Sydney over in I Knew You’d Be Lovely. There is an air of hope about the story, but not without that sneaking suspicion that the marriage may not last.

A mediocre songwriter brings together the prolific chart-topping duo of Zeb and Deb, who were once married and now at the stage of divorce where bitterness oozes out of every pore, because he wants them to write him a hit song so he can marry his pregnant girlfriend, Catherine, so they can get married. Zeb and Deb follow through in We’ve Got a Great Future Behind Us, but not without the usual aftermath of battles fought in a hotel suite. Black’s venomous dialogue and bitter recriminations ring truer than the main character’s intention to do the right thing. Throughout all the stories, the prose is often lyrical, sometimes biting and bitter as bile, and mostly congruent with the tone of the stories. The writing is good and fluent in the chasms and peaks in relationships, showing that Black pays attention. The conclusions are less clear in a couple of stories and the endings peter out without reaching that moment when it all comes together.

I Knew You’d be Lovely is a wide array of emotional offerings that shows depth of empathy and layers of solid craftsmanship with glimmers of artistry. Black is talented if a little constrained at times, and the stories like a box of literary chocolates.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell