"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
Unforgettable: Short Stories by Paulette Bates Alden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've read impeccable, independently published poetry (Sister) and non-fiction (Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement). I've been holding out faith that somewhere out there is indie fiction that is as high-quality as what comes out of traditional publishing houses, and I've finally found it with Unforgettable: Short Stories.
"Unforgettable" is a collection of loosely connected short stories centered around the character of Miriam Batson, who also appears in Alden's earlier collection Feeding the Eagles: Short Stories. You need not have read the first book (I haven't, but I will now) to enjoy this one, and each story can be read and understood independently.
The collection starts strong with "The Student," a story about the attachment (almost idealization) that Miriam feels for one of the college students she teaches. The story explores that moveable boundary between teacher and student in a way that is not sensationalist or lurid. It will ring true to anyone who has worked with youth, students, or "mentees" of any sort; despite the need for professionalism and proper boundaries between teacher and student or superior and subordinate in the work world, we are all human beings first and it is in our nature to form attachments to one another despite our wishes to keep things "professional" and "objective."
The theme of these boundaries appear in other stories, too, one of which explores Miriam's grief over a former housekeeper who has died, and another in which she considers bringing a sexual discrimination suit against the university where she works. Through my work as a courthouse reporter, I see legal documents every day, and Alden captures the human side of these transactions with particular eloquence, especially the interplay of guilt and discomfort, the loss of cordiality, and the self-doubt and wondering whether suffering all this in the name of "doing the right thing" is really worth it.
The stories in the second half of the book focus on Miriam's letting go of her parents in various ways--her father through death, and her mother through the slow slide of dementia and Alzheimer's. These stories capture the grief of dealing with a declining parent, along with the tenderness, humor, and utter frustration. Of these, "Lost Lake," which details Miriam's ambition to take her aged mother on a short vacation, is particularly well-wrought. I dread having to face my own parents' decline, but I already know that these experiences ring true through what my husband and his family go through as they attempt to care for his disabled father.
Although Miriam Batson is older than I am, I really related to her. Like me, she is a writer and professional who sometimes finds conflict navigating the space between being "agreeable" and standing up for her needs. She is flawed and compassionate and real enough that I wanted to spend more time with her, and so recently acquired a copy of Feeding the Eagles: Short Stories.
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