Thunderstruck & Other Stories
Elizabeth McCracken first came to prominence with her debut story collection, HERE’S YOU HAT WHAT’S YOUR HURRY, and she returns to the form with THUNDERSTRUCK & OTHER STORIES. It’s hard to compare McCracken to other writers out there because she’s so uniquely herself. Right off the bat, her characters set the tone with foreboding that also piques the reader’s interest: “This is not a story about success” and “History is full of the sad stories of foolish women.” Through her prose, we are introduced to the fragile people who exist in the world, but only just barely.
In “Property,” a man moves into a ramshackle rental house in Maine that he had planned to inhabit with his recently deceased wife. Not only is he wracked with grief, he is stunned by his landlady’s aloofness and lack of consideration, as demonstrated by the way she scatters her own possessions around the house. He mistakes this for carelessness but soon “…..he realized he’d gotten everything wrong. She had not left her worst things behind four years ago, but her best things, her beloved things. She’d left the art, hoping it brought beauty into the lives of the students and summer renters and other wayward subletters, all those people unfortunate enough not to have made a home here yet. …This was a house abandoned by sadness, not a war or epidemic but the end of a marriage, and kept in place to commemorate both the marriage and its ruin.”
"Fans of Lorrie Moore, Ann Patchett and Flannery O’Connor will adore this collection of heartfelt and wondrous stories. The title, THUNDERSTRUCK, is truly fitting because that’s how McCracken leaves her readers."
McCracken has a knack for pulling you in from the start with her frail but exquisite characters, usually through her startling descriptions. In “Some Terpsichore,” the lead character describes her future husband as a “…big-boned, raw-faced blond man with a smashed Parker-house roll of a nose…” Years later, relating the story of just how she came to have a saw hung on her wall, the protagonist remembers her musician husband who played it as an instrument. This first made her fall for him, and she compares the sound of his saw to the “voice of a beautiful toothache.” In the haunting “Juliet,” the local librarian describes the tragic titular character as having a “sort of nursey look to her, sweet and determined and recently divorced. Or maybe she was from an unfamiliar order of nuns…. But it turned out she just wore white that day.” Here, the author harrowingly recounts how a seemingly random act of violence affects a small town and its inhabitants.
The title story, “Thunderstruck,” introduces us to a couple who embarks on an impromptu trip to Paris after their tween daughter starts acting out. The mother ponders where she might have gone wrong: “This was her flaw as a parent, she thought later; she had never truly gotten rid of a single maternal worry.” Both parents feel like the trip will magically fix everything, like in the Madeline books they used to read to her as a child.
These nine stories are inhabited by characters who wistfully look at the realities of their world and wonder if things could be different. Even though they are dealing with serious and sometimes intense issues, the stories aren’t depressing; they’re revelatory and unflinchingly honest. In her earlier novel, THE GIANT’S HOUSE, McCracken dealt with the very real problems encountered by a “giant” young man and the librarian with whom he forms an unlikely bond. None of the characters in this collection have such dramatic and literal problems, but each knows well the sacrifices one has to make in life: “In order to wake up every morning, thought Wes, he’d convinced himself of a lot of things that weren’t true.”
Fans of Lorrie Moore, Ann Patchett and Flannery O’Connor will adore this collection of heartfelt and wondrous stories. The title, THUNDERSTRUCK, is truly fitting because that’s how McCracken leaves her readers.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on May 2, 2014