Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: Everybody Loves Somebody, by Joanna Scott

Everybody Loves Somebody
by Joanna Scott
Back Bay Books (Little, Brown)
260 pages

This short story collection by Joanna Scott is as gorgeous as that cover.  Really, it is. I think when you can say that 8 out of the 10 stories presented here are wonderful and memorable, then that says something about the quality and originality of the writing contained within. 

(As much as I love short stories (and I do), it is a very rare thing indeed when I love every story in a particular collection.  This one comes really, really close to fitting that bill.  I'll admit, "Yip" and "Or Else" didn't quite grab me, but that's OK.)

Everybody Loves Somebody is a remarkable collection of just 10 stories filled with unforgettable characters and prose rendered so beautiful that it is almost breathtaking. 

Like this, from "The Queen of Sheba is Afraid of Snow," a story about an 11 year old illiterate girl living in poverty with her great-grandmother, who sells sweet potatoes and popcorn from a street cart in order to provide for the twosome.  (The girl's mother is an "angel" in a religious cult.) This story is one of the very best and if I had to pick one, probably my favorite in the collection.)

"Not that the child had any sort of queenly shine to her.  Her coffee skin was splotched with freckles, and her eyes usually had a startled gleam to them, as if she couldn't believe what she'd seen.  Truth was, she believed too much.  She believed that sinners spend eternity tied to a roasting spit over a huge bonfire; she believed her mother was a sinner, just as Granny said; she believed that when she grew up she'd have her own huckster cart and sell sweet potatoes and popcorn along Lenox Avenue; she also believed that the angels were waiting for her granny, tapping their silver slippers expectantly, though Granny never said as much and instead kept on like a mechanical soldier march, march, marching across a toy-shop floor.  But the old woman had a way of moaning in her sleep that made her sound like she was saying goodbye to life. The girl didn't think far enough ahead to worry about who would take care of her when Granny died, - she wondered about that strange moment when Granny would drift from her bed up to heaven, imagined that the angels would hover outside the window blowing trumpets while the neighbors came running. The girl only hoped she'd reach the rooftop in time to see her grandmother slip through the glided door at the crest of the sky." (pg. 98)

See what I mean? 

I also liked Scott's final story in this book. "The Lucite Cane," where an elderly man's cane almost becomes a character itself.  How this simple cane and the presence thereof manages to ensnare so many lives is a heartbreaking tale.

As the description on the back cover says, "At a seaside wedding in 1919, a doting uncle observes the happy scene while his errant brother - the father of the bride - struggles to free himself from a locked bathroom ["Heaven and Hell"].  A young woman new to Jazz Age New York strikes up a dangerous relationship with her boss ["Stumble"].  Two old women gamble with a diplomat who counts General Franco as his friend ["Freeze-Out"]. An apartment building burns ["Across from the Shannonso"]. Children are lost ["Worry"]. Children are found. [not saying which story this is, for fear of spoilers]. A single character experiences life in multiple versions ["Or Else"]. And everybody keeps looking for someone to love."

Don't these stories sound intriguing?  They are.  One of the other original qualities about Everybody Loves Somebody is that the stories span an entire decade.  They're not interconnected, but rather the first one starts in 1919, then the next is set in the Jazz Age, etc.  One of the last few (I forget which one) ends circa 1972. I really liked that continuity throughout the book.

I think this collection would be especially good for people who claim not to like short stories for one reason or another.  Yes, you might grow a little attached to some of these characters, but that only means they might stay with you longer.

Although I'd heard of Joanna Scott before picking up this collection, I only knew of her recent novel, Follow Me, which I had borrowed from the library and had to return unread before it was due.  I'm glad I was introduced to her work through her short stories though.  I happened to stumble on this while browsing the library's stacks. If these stories are any indication of Joanna Scott's talent, you can bet I am looking forward to reading more.
copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


JoAnn said...

I love short stories, so this sounds like a winner to me! Discovering new authors is always a pleasure, too . I recently finished You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (loosely connected stories) and loved it. Will work on the review this week.

Anna said...

I wasn't too impressed with Follow Me, so the other books I was sent when I signed up for that blog tour have been languishing on my shelves. However, if you say that many stories in one collection are really good, I'll have to dig this book out and give it a try!