What Doesn’t Kill You …

Anne Clinard Barnhill says she’s found a good Christmas present for the readers on your list. Here’s her review of an anthology out from Press 53, a small, independent publisher of literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry.  Press 53 was established in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 2005.

Anne lives in Garner. Her first novel, At the Mercy of the Queen, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press.  Her previous books include At Home in the Land of Oz: Autism, My Sister and Me (memoir, Jessica Kingsley Publisher) and What You Long For (short-story collection, Main Street Rag).

By Anne Clinard Barnhill

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU… Edited by Murray Dunlap and Kevin Morgan Watson. Press 53. 200 pages. Paperback, $17.95.

 First, I must say I’m not a fan of anthologies.  Most of the time, though the stories are organized around a particular theme, I find them uneven in quality, with some of the stories included only because they “fit.” However, in What Doesn’t Kill You, my preconceived ideas have been shattered.  This collection of short stories (with a couple of nonfiction pieces thrown in) is excellent and a real pleasure to read.

 Obviously, the stories are about hard times, the kind of times when life throws you into the sewer and, even though you scrape your way out, the stench might cling to you for a while.  Sixteen writers harbor 16 different definitions of what constitutes a hard time.  For David James Poissant in his quirky story, “Between the Teeth,” about a man who murders his wife’s dog, the trouble comes on four legs.  Okay, maybe murder is too strong a word — after all, it was an accident.  Wasn’t it?

 Jane Bradley’s, “Are We Lucky Yet,” tells another kind of story, one about a young woman who is trying to get her life back together after making a long series of big mistakes.  Heartbreaking in places, this story ultimately ends on a hopeful note, offering love as the cure for this beaten-down world.

 In Rusty Barnes’ “Feeling the Ground Give Way,” hard labor is a relief from the illness that has stolen the narrator’s wife.  Ward Bowman has trouble dealing with a wife who must write simple phrases to communicate, so he mends the fences of his farm, the physical stresses and strains a welcome respite from his emotional wounds.

 In “Island” by Rhett Iseman Trull and Murray Dunlap’s “Times I Nearly Died,” the two nonfiction pieces in the anthology, the amazing survival of the human spirit is evident and true.  These are two very different stories, but each rings with the authenticity of someone who has been deep into the abyss and has struggled out, bearing the scars, yes, but out, nevertheless.

 I am not going to discuss each and every story here.  I’ll add one more, “Self-Portrait in Camouflage,” by Marjorie Hudson.  This one haunted me long after I had read it.  Here, a young woman struggles to become an artist and finds love in the unusual men who people her life.  Raw and pulsing, the story offers the comfort of community as a balm to the hurts of living.

This is a first-rate collection, one you are sure to enjoy reading.  A great Christmas gift for the discerning reader.

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