Sara Rauch takes on familiar territory in her short story collection What Shines from It, out next month from Alternating Current Press, and also unfamiliar territory.
For the most part, Rauch’s stories read like Raymond Carver’s—two people intimately involved in one another’s lives; the deep tension that can bring those two people at odds, and how both men and women handle such interactions.
What Rauch brings that is new is a view from more than just the husband and wife relationship. In her stories there are female couples who are trying to figure out where they stand on having a second child, complete strangers spending an afternoon trying like hell to connect to something, as well as a couple who are faced with a decision about a pregnancy that becomes just as complicated as those kinds of decisions can become.
Creating life, creating cohesion in life, connections, missed connections. It’s all here. And it’s handled with the deft hand of an author confident in her voice and what she has to say.
In “Addition,” a story that follows Alex and Rose and they deal with daily pressures while not dealing with a big decision: whether or not to have another child. Rose delivered their first and, due to circumstance, Alex would need to deliver their second. Alex’s failure to commit to one or the other becomes a point of contention. Through Rose, Rauch poses a question that speaks to anyone struggling to sync up to another human being as Rose, near her wit’s end, says, “At some point, not making a decision is a decision.”
And herein we have that familiar territory Carver, Updike, Cheever, and others explored during the heyday of kitchen sink realism, but with a contemporary concern and a richer, more elaborate landscape. Throughout What Shines from It Rauch expertly lays out this landscape as well as any author writing today.
In another story, “Slice,” we have a front row seat for the slow dying of a relationship that had hardly had time to get started. Emmeline and Sebastian. The couple. Names are important in this story. The entire rise and fall of their strained relationship is on display. It is in this story that Rauch shows how well she can stir nuance to create heartbreak on the page. During a phone call, we get an incredibly insightful moment in which Emmeline recognizes one of the first signs. She’s making plans with Sebastian.
“Can I come over? and I said, Of course, but I have to finish the buttons tonight, and he said, I won’t stay. What time? and I said, Seven. We hung up, and I stared at my phone, trying to remember when we’d last made such specific plans for no reason.”
The formality feels like the first tiny heartbreak on the road to a much more significant moment for both of them.
What Shines from It, which borrows its title from a line in Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, is a collection of razor sharp stories from a writer with something important to say. And what she says certainly does shine.