Last year I chose Songs For The New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout as one of my fave reads of the year (read here); now he is back with a holiday-themed collection of stories called Gifts Not Yet Given.
Much as I was moved by Songs, I was cautious this time around -- second outings tend to disappoint, this holiday theme seemed gimmicky, and in general I am not a huge fan of short stories... I am one of the few Canadians who think both Alice Munro and hockey are overrated.
Then I read Gifts Not Yet Given, and my worries went away; the stories are involving and thought-provoking, and the holiday theme serves as a faint background rather than some clunky imposed structure. The stories are about family, religion, loneliness, social awkwardness, fitting in and especially not fitting in, and sadness and death. As with Songs, this is a serious writer who shows he can still be fun to read.
As with any collection, some stories shine more than others, and it took me a while to warm up here; the first story, about a driven career woman who misses out on life, is well-written but nothing new, and is probably the weakest of the 14 stories.
The second one is about a young gay boy marching to his own drummer, and it is quirky and sweet. There is lots of quirky and lots of sweet here, and yes a fair bit of gay -- all things I like!
As Gifts' stories got more family and relationship oriented, and often sad and unsettling, I started to care about these people and become really involved in their lives.
Three stories stayed with me: The Stepping Stone about a geeky son and his mother from hell, Holes about a life devastated by disease, and the title story Gifts Not Yet Given about a family still struggling with a choice in their past. These alone are worth the price of admission.
Check this one out --- the stories are original and intriguing, and the characters are strong and flawed, loving and broken. Author photo courtesy Sara+Ryan Photography Review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. This review is my own. No compensation was received (Jellybeans would have been nice).