There are incomplete women in this compendium of Karen Brown’s short stories. They desperately reside or have fallen from upper scale suburbia, products of missing parents, divorce, sex toy boyfriends, or the entrapment of an era that feels like the 1950s and early 60s. You feel their emptiness, their need, their indifference.
“Little Sinners” is the mildest to me, a story of the meanness of two young girls. “Swimming” is an affair in a pool magnified by imaginative gossip of the neighborhood. Do parents pass on their traits genetically or environmentally?
“Stillborn” is darker. Neighborly transgressions, with salvation delivered.”Homing” is a story about a fatalist who makes a choice to have life continue to decide for her. The choices are limited as are the stunted male companions.
“Philter” is either a love or a magic potion. The former is more sex than love willingly participated in with a dysfunctional or sinister family by another empty female vessel.
“An Heiress Walks Into a Bar” should have a Catskill punchline, but explores the whole left in daughters when fathers disappear unexpectantly. Fathers gone missing, plays out in a number of Ms. Brown’s stories. “Passing” and “Leaf House” share this trait, although the latter reflects an ill-fated, breakage of a relationship in Victorian Connecticut. Like “An Heiress Walks Into a Bar”, “The Fountain” is an orchestrated larcenous affair, following a well settled divorce.
“Mistresses” like “Housewifery” has that desperate housewife feel to it, but each is distinctive in having a female character that is finding a way to complete herself, rather than being completed by others. The “Mistresses” is the better of the two, in my view.
For those who track awards, this book received the Prairie Schooner book prize in fiction. Ms. Brown writes well, but the stories tread the same ground. I believe her first novel, “The Longing of Wayward Girls”, will be published this July. From the title it seems as it will plow this genre a little deeper.
“Little Sinners” is a book worth reading. It would be interesting to see Ms. Brown stretched beyond this theme in her next publication as she is a capable writer.