Work Title: Things Kept, Things Left Behind
Work Author(s): Jim Tomlinson
University of Iowa Press
176 pages, Softcover $15.95
Reviewer: Leeta Taylor
The 2006 winner of the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award, this debut collection mines a neglected niche of literary territory---working-class Eastern Kentucky---in much the same way that Alice Munro explored rural Canada, with the same trusting attention to lost chances and hard luck. Though fashions in fiction have lately been those of an exuberant authorial voice, a racing overdrive of dazzlingly self-conscious language, this volume has the deliberate pace of a tractor on the back roads: one can either by-pass or follow behind and observe its slowly unfolding landscape views. Sometimes, slow is better.
A couple's adultery is told between the two linked stories of the title, though the consequences and discoveries are unexpected, almost invisible. In "Things Left Behind," Dexter Chalk and LeAnn McCray, a high school couple, get reacquainted in their less lovely adult lives, and it's only through the helpful gesture of the motel maid returning Dex's "sobriety journal" she can't read English, but its handwritten entries remind her of a missal) to LeAnn, who rented the room, that their trysts are exposed to LeAnn's husband, who opens her mail in a fit of rage. But the conclusion's fireworks are so carefully circumvented, so writerly in observation "as if the organ stop of Plaintive had gotten stuck"), that the reader is left to ponder the title again, how the history of secrets still lives.
Similarly, in "Things Kept," LeAnn's mother who, unlike her daughter, is a pure plain model of the suffering, loyal wife) circumvents the selling...