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Last Year's Jesus: A Novella and Nine Stories


Last Year's Jesus: A Novella and Nine Stories

To really know someone it is best to avoid looking at the
extraordinary events in their life, instead examining the small,
quiet days in between. Ellen Slezak understands this, and these are
the moments she presents her readers in LAST YEAR'S JESUS.

In this collection of one novella and nine short stories, Slezak
captures the loneliness and frustration as well as the hope and
pride of people who are busy surviving and often not doing much
else. Her characters all come from working class Polish Catholic
Detroit, and their values are rooted in this identity. Faced with
death, fear, and sadness and often feeling vulnerable, Slezak's
creations usually find hope in the simplest gestures, in the most
unexpected relationships. In short, these stories are beautiful and
emotional studies in realism.

The title story sets the tone for the rest. In it, Theresa, a young
woman lacking experience and confidence, joins a passion play as it
walks the Stations of the Cross at Easter. In this emotional and
religious moment she begins a flirtation with the man who played
Jesus in last year's play. Her imagination takes her only so far,
as the reality of life with her grandmother grounds her. In the
end, she finds herself standing alone, the exciting moment passed,
as last year's Jesus pays attention to this year's Veronica.

Other stories in the collection are equally as melancholy, ironic
and easily related to: a young, pregnant woman bonds with her
senile grandfather while tending a tomato patch; a lonely man finds
himself the caretaker of the elderly man across the street; a young
woman reaches out to a widow and her daughter; a boy literally
comes in from the cold to build a friendship with an older woman on
his block. Themes of intergenerational bonds, neighborliness,
unexpected friendship, and subtle kindness permeate Slezak's
stories. Each story finds the characters reaching out or being
reached out to just at the moment that care and acknowledgment is
most needed. Sometimes this moment is brief, easily missed, but it
always relieves a tension or begins to heal a lonely or broken

Sweet, sad and deceptively simple, LAST YEAR'S JESUS is short story
writing at its best. It is not without a touch of humor, but it is
ironic humor and always bittersweet. The drama of injustice, both
personal and societal, is constrained in these pages, surfacing in
brief bursts of emotion and energy. Despite its often slow pace,
this is a well-written and touching yet brutally honest collection.
Slezak's affection for her characters and their culture is obvious
and it is refreshing.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

Last Year's Jesus: A Novella and Nine Stories
by Ellen Slezak

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Theia
  • ISBN-10: 0786867418
  • ISBN-13: 9780786867417