In “Her Life in Parties,” one of the short stories in Garnett Kilberg Cohen’s latest collection “Cravings,” the protagonist muses that it’s “difficult to explain what she meant in nonfiction when fiction was available.” And yet surprisingly, and delightfully, many of the twelve stories that comprise this collection bring an essayistic style to the short-story form.
There’s “Hors d’oeuvres,” the opening story that centers on a moment in childhood that impacts the rest of the protagonist’s life, and “Ogden, Ohio” where a young mother balances her love of literature with the unexpected return of a high-school heartthrob, and Andrea from “Her Life in Parties” who strings together the significant parties in her life to track the arc of her personal growth. While all these characters differ in age and circumstance, what joins them together is a tender, wry and keenly observant tone of voice as the primarily female protagonists and narrators reflect on key moments from their pasts that continue to perplex, vex or even haunt them. Overall, these stories are animated predominantly by an interior narrative that goes back and forth in time, more akin to how memory moves in the mind, versus a succession of scenes that drive a forward-moving plot.
Lovers of more conventional short stories will find their cravings satisfied with “Wheels,” a poignant piece about an aging father Ace Rivers and his two adult children at a crossroads in their lives; “Jump,” a slice-of-life portrait about two young girls; and “Feast” which centers on transplants in a small town to conclude the collection. Scattered throughout these twelve stories are allusions to Chicago’s neighborhoods, El stops and streets, which local readers will enjoy piecing together into a patchwork of the city.
With the rise of TikTok videos, podcasts and the growing range of “microcontent” competing for our attention, Kilberg Cohen presents the short stories—whether using elements of fiction, nonfiction or both—as an ever-vital form of discovery on the “rare moments we live.”
As her only Chicago appearance on her book tour, Garnett Kilberg Cohen will be reading from “Cravings” at Women and Children First on Wednesday, November 8, at 7pm.
By Garnett Kilberg Cohen
University of Wisconsin Press, 147 pages