Things Kept, Things Left Behind, by Jim Tomlinson

It’s always a treat to read the year’s Iowa Short Fiction Award winner–and this year it was doubly so as this year’s winner–Things Kept, Things Left Behind–was written by the kind and talented, Jim Tomlinson. What a thrill it was to see Flights, which appeared in the issue of SmokeLong Quarterly for which I was guest editor, as part of the collection.

Each of the stories in this collection is handled with great care and finesse, creating a whole that leaves the reader feeling both satisfied and heartbroken.

Basically, these are not easy stories to read because of the sadness and deep hurt they depict, and yet after reading them you will feel hopeful, despite the tragic beauty of the world–best exemplified in the character LeAnn:

Sometimes she thinks of herself as a howl. The wail of a coyote, maybe, or a lone banshee, a shriek dying away in the night without reaching ears. Piercing, like something wrenched raw from an orphaned soul. A hollow thing, haunted, a sound that lives on, still shrill in memory long after its echo dies out.

If I were asked to compare Tomlinson’s world to that of another writer, I would choose Andre Dubus–as both so beautifully, and skillfully, portray that which is damaged and brutal in life, that which is violent and beautiful. Much like Dubus’s stories, these are stories of families broken or cobbled together, of people on the edge, of anger, of betrayal, and above all else, of desperation and shame.

I hope you will buy and read this collection (and also suggest to your library that they order a copy), as you will not regret it. Not by a long shot.

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