Love Stories in This Town by Amanda Eyre Ward

April 4, 2009
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Love Stories in This Town
Amanda Eyre Ward

Random House Publishing Group
4-04-09
Hardcover/224 pages
ISBN: 0-812980115
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". . . an honest and bald-faced look at love . . ."

A collection of stories about love without romance.

Love comes in many forms. Amanda Eyre Ward finds its darkness and rough edges in her collection of short stories, Love Stories in This Town.

Several stories center on the aftermath of 9/11 when fear runs rampant and people cling to what little hope they could find. In Should I be Scared? it’s antibiotics and Zelda has nothing worth selling, not even her body, to get enough money to buy them for her and her husband. It was a rib, a memento kept on the mantle, from a couple’s daughter who died at the World Trade Center in The Way the Sky Changed and a phone call that never came.

Many of the stories are about having babies, losing babies, raising babies and the anxiety of failing to have a baby. And then there are the Lola stories, the last half of the collection, short trips into Lola’s family and her marriage.

It’s hard to know where Butte as in Beautiful fits in with its young librarian becoming engaged on the day a masturbator shows up at the library. Annie wants to leave her dreary, predictable life with her father dying of cancer and her mother who smells like death behind. James’s proposal is her guarantee that she won’t end her life in Butte.

There is love in the stories, but not the romantic, hearts and flowers kind of love we’ve come to expect. Only in Miss Montana’s Wedding Day does Ward approach the traditional view of love as the bride rides down the aisle sitting side saddle astride a white horse and lassoing her groom with a golden rope while wearing a gown that is little more than a white meringue on steroids. It is our first introduction to Lola who has been invited to her ex-boyfriend’s wedding.

Instead of traditional love, Ward offers reality in hearty doses with the kind of people found on every street corner and in every town. Each one reaches for love and ends up with diapers, breastfeeding, or videos of middle European babies offered for adoption to couples impatient for family. The dark thread that runs through all the stories is the cost of love, the demands of living with someone whose fears and excesses overwhelm their common sense and threaten to drag their spouses with them. It’s in the lies that we tell to protect the image of love and the brief happy moments when everything seems perfect. Love Stories in This Town is full of choices and chances, bright shining moments and moments when it seems that love is an impossibility to find and sustain. Instead of happily ever after, Ward shows us happy right now and maybe tomorrow in pithy glimpses and subtle strokes of insight that linger and make the reader think.

Butte as in Beautiful left me with more questions than answers, but Lola’s stories are the dirt-spattered gems that lift the collection out of the ordinary and show Ward’s observations at their clearest. Love Stories in This Town isn’t a happy collection, but it is an honest and bald-faced look from the inside and underbelly of love and life.

 

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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