…I felt achy the rest of the day – the ache that comes with the helplessness of endings, any ending.
This is Not an Accident by April Wilder
224 pages, Viking Adult, January 2014
I was never much of a short-story person. I like meatier things. I like to know more about characters, and I like to know their whole story, not just a snippet that a short story gives you.
I have, however, been very lucky with short story collections lately. Either authors are stepping up their games or I’m getting old-age short-attention-span-syndrome.
April Wilder’s This is Not an Accident is eight short stories and a novella. It started slow for me; I was a little worried where it was going. Then it got better, but not only did it get better, how much better it got made me reevaluate the earlier stories and realize they were actually kind of beautiful, as well…and now, looking them over, I don’t know what I originally didn’t relate to in the earlier stories. She absolutely won me over.
Her theme, overall, is the fragility of relationships…how we destroy each other, how we destroy ourselves, how we try so hard to hold it all together and how it slips through our fingers, sometimes without us even noticing it. Each of her characters is more broken than the next, and more relatable. I know these people. I have been these people, I’ve been surrounded by these people, I’ve loved these people, I’ve been destroyed by these people.
If I told you about each story, and why I loved each one, we’d be here much too long, so just let me briefly tell you, as briefly as I can, about some of the things that hit me right in the chest, that made me gasp a little, that brought quick hot tears to my eyes and made me say “yes” and “I know” and “oh” and “oh.”
In “We Were Champions,” a revelation about her past makes the narrator’s boyfriend both explode and implode at the same time, while the narrator herself is mired in the memories; they’re dangerous, those memories, and they’re an unsafe place to stay, but she thinks, “It’s strange how much you miss and overlook, how little you know about the one you want most,” and my heart caught at this. We’re all mysteries to one another, aren’t we? No matter how well we know one another, how close we are…there’s a mystery there. We’ll never know all there is to know there. There’s always that space.
In “It’s a Long Dang Life,” we meet Laney, who married the wrong man and was lucky enough to find the right one, the one she’d lost, many years later. She loves her children, and her grandchildren, more than her own life – she’s given up everything for them – but this man. This man is hers. “…he will drink too much again and he will play too hard, he will pick them up…hold them screaming in midair, and some day he’ll play until he’s not playing anymore. And Laney won’t stop him. She never will. If he asked her, if it’s what he needed to make it through the night, she would deliver them to him in her own arms.”
We love until we have nothing left, and then we keep loving; we love until we are empty shells of ourselves, and if we’re lucky, we find someone who loves us back just as hard…and sometimes we make it work between us, don’t we? Sometimes we don’t destroy one another. Sometimes we collide and it just…works.
In “Three Men,” Jess thinks back to three broken men who have affected her – her father, her husband, and her brother. Her father, with his war stories that mutate, depending on who he’s telling them to; her husband, who she is leaving (or is he leaving her?) who can’t dress himself, who always has a ripped seam, a stained shirt, a frayed tie; and her brother, a child stuntman who has never grown up. “His wife told Jess once he has to drink until one in order to write his name legibly. But write this name on what?”
Each story so full of sorrow and pain and darkness that your heart hurts with every word; but even as you’re hurting, you have to read more. You need to know what happens to these people. Because these people are you, and these are the people you love, and you have a vested interest in their lives, somehow; if only they can make it work, maybe you can, too. Maybe you’ll be alright.
We’re all broken, and we all destroy one another and destroy ourselves…but sometimes we find ourselves, right before things go too far. Sometimes there’s a way out.
(For the most beautiful review of this book, and the reason I knew I had to read it, please read Cassie’s review here; she does it much more justice than I can. She’s who I aspire to be in my reviewing, this woman. And also just a damn amazing lady, to boot.)