Laura Pedersen has established herself in the past with her vivid characters, charming stories and touching humor. She writes of human fears and funny friendships with equal aplomb, and tackles tough topics with tenderness and often surprising turns. Through it all, she maintains a finger on the pulse of what moves us and motivates us, what makes us cry, and most importantly, what makes us laugh.
THE SWEETEST HOURS is true to Pedersen's tale-telling history. It is a collection of stories, each touching on compelling life experiences such as failed or revived relationships, the stuff that lies at the heart of humanity (even if, sometimes, it's not a person who is center stage in the experiencing).
Here's a sampling:
"Gus Hunts for a Job" is the first story in Pedersen's latest offering, and it is sweet and wonderful. The children have grown and Gus feels a huge emptiness, a need to fill the common void once filled by hours of activity with the kids he loves so much. A familiar story? Yes. Only Gus is a 142-pound yellow mastiff dog in search of a second career, not a middle-aged father. Pedersen gets to the heart of this big loving family dog, his role in the clan, his life at the center of an evolving home. And, you know what, he could be anyone experiencing empty nest syndrome; the story evokes such recognizable loss and yearning.
In "This Santa's for Hire," a mother finds herself in the uncomfortable position of fessing up that Santa is a myth to two incredulous boys, her seven- and nine-year old sons. "The inevitable safe sex lecture couldn't be more challenging than this," she thought as she watched her boys cry at the shattering of their childhood illusion. But on Christmas Eve punk-rock babysitter Mindy sets the story straight once and for all for the boys, salvaging the holidays and their beliefs, albeit with an unorthodox myth of her own. Pedersen gives an unavoidable rite-of-passage a temporary reprieve in an unexpected and delightful tale.
"Forth and Back" is a lifetime in a 2.2-mile walk to and from a mailbox. On his short journey to retrieve sundry bills and magazines, Zach Boxer confesses an affair, recommits to his marriage, proclaims his undying love for his daughters, and relives a defining moment from his youth. Similar recollections in the hands of a lesser writer could have befallen the fate of cliche. But Pedersen's Zach is refreshing in his internal dialogue, his candor, his confessions, and his acknowledgments of his biggest mistakes and greatest achievements. Even after admitting his ill-conceived affair (done just to see if he could get away with it), one can't help but like him when more is revealed.
A collection of 12 short stories, THE SWEETEST HOURS is a book about nothing less than life in all its ugliness and beauty. Whether ordering a groom through the mail or mooning over an adonis lifeguard, the characters are living stories we've all heard or read before. But Pedersen is facile at delving into the complications of finding love, creating home, and embracing experience in innovative and appealing ways, with clever characters and new voices. THE SWEETEST HOURS is a book worth giving.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 23, 2011
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