"You never recover from grief, you make an uneasy truce with it. You find a shelf to put it on so it doesn’t bleed into every thought or conversation."

This collection, as the subtitle states, is constructed around love and death. Hemingway reminds us that "all stories, if continued far enough, eventually end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you." Author Cook is a "true-story teller," even though his tales are fiction, and death is not necessarily the end of his stories but the fulcrum on which they often turn. Cook's stories also remind us that while death can certainly wound love, it can never truly erase it.

The differences in the collection's stories are many. A house does fall into the sea, but the memories inside it are not lost. A boy with a tragically disfigured face is empowered by a girl who sees more than his scars. A romance blooms in a carnival midway, where the tawdry glitter hides unimaginable pain. A man suffering a horribly debilitating disease discovers he's not as alone as he thinks he is. A priest grapples with questions not only of loss, grief, and death but perhaps with the hardest questions of all, those about life.

Cook is a writer who is able to convey pathos without wallowing in sentimentality. He wields his pen like a scalpel, intricately cutting to the heart of remorse without opening veins of self-pity. There is a sturdy sense of acceptance in the way his characters look sorrow in the eye and deal with it. Humor is never completely absent, even in tales where one doesn't necessarily expect it. There are a dozen stories within the covers of this book, all imminently readable. What stands out the most, however, is the author's commitment to understanding and compassion. They are the foundational pillars on which this literate and life-affirming collection stands.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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