There are some short stories that do exactly what they are meant to. They present us with a character with all his or her internal thoughts and feelings. Through the story, whether there is a great deal of action or not, we discover who this person is and why they are like that. So, when the ending comes, for better or for worse, surprise or what we expected, we understand at the deepest level exactly what happened and why.
The title piece is such a story, and it’s a good one. By the time the end comes, we know exactly what choice she is going to make. What we’re interested in is whether she is aware of what she’s done.
The other old standby of the short story is the plot twist. The author sets up a scenario that looks perfectly true to life and does such a good job of it that we feel we know exactly what is going on. But of course, that is not what is going on, and if the story is written well, when the ending suddenly slaps us with reality,we once again understand what just happened and receive a jolt of enjoyment from a sudden new look at the world.
There are several stories of this sort in the compilation, both long and short. “Everything” is one of the longer variety, made especially fun by the fact that the author leads us to believe we are reading a character-portrayal story when, suddenly, we aren’t.
The group of shorter tales in the middle of the book are mostly of this sort and vary more in quality, leading me to posit the theory that the shorter the story is, the more pithy the punch line has to be. Otherwise, why bother? In a couple of stories, I rather wished I hadn’t, but since they were only a page or two long, no harm, no foul.
Many of these stories are humorous, but a few are poignant, and those are the strongest in the book. “Don’t Ask,” the story of a couple with a handicapped child, stands out in my mind. The ending is not what we expected, but we should have.
One story I must mention that does not come up to the quality of the rest of the book is “Lepidoptera.” While the character development is wonderful, it goes on for too long, and the overall metaphor is so forced that it needs explaining at the end.
A short story collection with a nice variety of story styles, but a bit uneven in quality.(4 / 5)