Maggie Brown & Others, Peter Orner 2019
This is a superb book! Orner is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth and has previously published two novels, two books of short stories, and a wonderful memoir, Am I Alone Here?. This collection of 44 stories and a 100 page novella is marvelously blurbed by the likes of Andrea Barrett (a favorite short story writer!), Yiyun Li (a wonderful essayist and memoirist), Anthony Doerr (loved his All the Light), and Lauren Groff (prize winning Florida short stories and current Radcliffe Fellow) and totally deserving of the attention. In some stories as brief as two pages, Orner sketches the characters, location, and situation with a few rapid brush strokes and then moves the story forward. Rarely do the stories end with resolution; rather, he creates a horizon beyond which life continues to evolve. Suicide, drug use, mental illness, divorce all make appearances and one is not left whistling Zip a Dee Do Dah by the end of the book. But one is left with a richer sense of the complexity of people, the challenge of living a life in the world, and the importance of others. When (spoiler alert!!!) Walt Kaplan, the main character of the novella, drops dead of a heart attack in 1978, I was so upset that I had to set the book aside for several days before finishing the last few pages. Perhaps I loved this book because, like Orner, I grew up Jewish in a Chicago suburb, went to summer camp in northern Wisconsin, attended the University of Michigan, lived near Allston, and had parents whose friends and siblings showed up in these stories, but I think that everyone would enjoy this remarkably good book. Read it!