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9 to 5 or 5 of 9

Women In BedI had a mixed reaction to Jessica Keener’s 9 short stories in this collection, partly coloured by the fact that I felt the 3 weakest stories, in my opinion, were the opening stories, with plot devices being too obvious – I particularly felt manipulated by arresting images which did not really make sense in the third one . Why would someone want to deliberately pour the contents of a bottle of pills into a drawer rather than keep them in the bottle for ease of access – other than the writer wanting to have an image of someone scrabbling in the drawer – I saw that one coming as soon as the pill pouring happened

Part of the problem with the short story genre, is that there is a tendency, once one or two stories are read, for the reader to ‘get’; the author’s tricks as well as style, and then to be able to predict exactly where the author is going to go. So I thought I had Keener’s measure, and that all stories were going to be the same

I felt the first 3 stories, which were orientated towards sexual desire, were a little superficial and predictable – and clearly, the ‘expected’ subject matter of a collection with the title Women In Bed

As this was an ARC I felt honour bound to read a little further than just 3 stories, in order to write my review, and I’m pleased I did as the fourth of the 9 stories, Woman with Birds In Her Chest, genuinely surprised and drew me in, a story about a woman taking early retirement; and the following story, Recovery, felt genuine, moving and very present.

This more surprising subject matter, and also I felt a delicacy in the layered emotions of those two stories, had me engaged and discovering rather than predicting

The story Shoreline, again disappointed me slightly as there was a clear signalling of a plot device which was going to be used to create a predictable cataclysmic scene, and moreover one which ‘in real’ the protagonist would have been unlikely to have left hanging around to precipitate events. I can’t reveal it because it will spoil the journey the reader makes in this story of a marriage going wrong.

The last 3 stories interested me again. Told in the first person, the narrator is ‘Jennie’ a name not a million miles from the author’s own – so they may or may not be semi-autobiographical, or the author may be deliberately wanting us to think so, and there is a trajectory which connects them. The titles, Bird Of Grief, Forgiveness and Heart clearly also show stages in a Heart, Life, Journey. The first and last stories in this trilogy, a journey for ‘Jennie’ with men in her life, is particularly well knitted together with the glue of a childhood, familial story, and the 3 almost form a novella.

Most of the stories end on a downward, melancholic note, although the shape of those last three, is a little different, showing themselves like 3 Acts in a play; I found the sense of self discovery and resolution across the 3 stories to be particularly well crafted.

Keenan does write well, and, for me 5 of the 9 were stories which completely succeeded.

It is probably par for the course with a short story collection, that not every story is Jessica-Keener2equally strong and successful.

The ones I did like have inched it into better than Okay. I’m not jumping up and down with you HAVE to read this excitement, but think she is a writer worth reading, and watching

Received as an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Women In Bed Amazon UK
Women In Bed Amazon USA