A Near-perfect Gift: Stories
Rose Marie Kinder brings to life another small-town rural community and its inhabitants in her latest short-story collection. Author of Sweet Angel Band, a previous, award-winning collection of short stories about small-town living, Kinder has the ability to illuminate the grime and glory of rural living. Each story in Gift seeks to answer some of life’s more powerful yet innocent questions—particularly those of mortality and suffering—without being too forthcoming with answers. Instead, Kinder allows you to discover your own questions and answers while delving into stories of pain, aging, love, loss, and redemption through the lives of characters living in a small town’s isolation and intimacy.
Some of these characters appear in multiple stories, although you may not recognize them at first glance—they’re seen more deeply through others’ perspectives—and these recurring characters become favorites as their lives are more intimately disclosed. Take, for instance, James, Ruth, and Cora, a brother and his two half-sisters. We first see Cora as a child and teenager in “Ghosts,” where she and a friend face a changing friendship and the ghosts of men who pass in and out of their mothers’ lives. Later, in “Pulse of the World,” we meet Cora’s entire family—her mother, her younger half-brother James, and her younger sister Ruth. Here Kinder digs deep into James’ teenage soul, pulling out resentment and a deep desire to create a better life, when he feels that he’s nothing more “than an almost-bastard, a half-brother, not whole in any way.” And Kinder brings James’ struggles to further light through Cora’s first-person narrative in “Blue Baby.”
Kinder disperses well-told tales of others living in this same town among these interconnected stories, exploring many of short fiction’s typical themes through her uniquely illustrated characters. Her writing is natural and beautiful yet disturbing, able to tug at the heart with pages of narration about the most attractive and unsightly parts of humanity—children who taunt and tease, a boy who tries to be his own man but makes a horrible mistake, a lonely mother who discovers a miracle in her backyard, a misfit who becomes a neighborhood hero. These well-designed characters bring to light life in a rural place that’s often hard to believe ever existed, even though towns such as those in Gift can be found spattering the country. Kinder opens the eyes to the people whose worlds are both as small as their hometowns and as big as their minds and experiences allow them to become.