Bonds of Love & Blood
by Marylee MacDonald
Summertime Publications

"Catching happiness was like catching a mosquito. You could hear it buzzing right by your ear, but it always got away."

There’s more than one common denominator in this excellent compilation of short stories. Certainly exceptional writing is evident in each. Plus there is a collective sense of time and place across many different locales and environments. And as the very apt title implies, there is also a recurring theme of connectivity—the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements that bind individuals together, for good or for ill.

MacDonald does an extraordinary job of telling her stories from the mouths and hearts of very different kinds of people. Here are just a few examples of the situations in which her characters find themselves. A woman in Turkey is asked to help get a man out of jail. She has ties to him, motivation, and money, but does she have enough empathy? A young man vacationing in Thailand grapples with a physical deformity, shyness, a devil-may-care cousin, and sexual insecurity. A tough and tenacious mother in Florida frets over her son’s lackadaisical approach to life. An architect’s helper in the Midwest bemoans the physical requirements of his job, and the uncertainty of his future as he tells a lie to bolster his self worth. A here-to-fore privileged black man winds up in a Baltimore jail and learns firsthand that oppression still exists. A grandmother struggles to be the younger woman she once was and faces the fact that as her physical capabilities change, so too does her image in the eyes of her granddaughter. An older woman with a younger husband wonders if she’s made a mistake. A Canadian woman with a husband and mother-in-law from India is forced to re-evaluate her life whether she wants to or not. An American mother of Danish descent searches for her adopted son who has disappeared in Prague. She finds a situation she’s unable to handle. A traditional Japanese man travels to California to meet his daughter’s fiancé and his family. East meets west in quite unexpected ways. Two older lovers face a life-threatening storm while trying to weather the thaw that’s coming between them.

All of the above stories are viscerally alive with emotional resonance and physical conflict. They show a writer working at the top of her game—one unafraid to forego explanations, thereby increasing impact by relying on the intellect of the reader.

One story however, rises above the rest. It is told from the point of view of an adolescent girl in 1958, recalling a vacation with her parents in Mexico. Here, the author masterfully underplays for maximum effect. A palpable sense of dread is heightened slowly, inexorably, as paragraph after paragraph builds to a resolution the reader senses is coming, fears with all his heart, yet is unable to turn away from. Not unlike some of the best of Raymond Carver’s work, this story pulses with the heartbeat of truth, and pierces with the arrow of regret.

In the end, MacDonald’s stories are more about staying together than drifting apart. They throw off the ruse that each of us is some kind of lone wolf and unconditionally accepts the fact that we are all basically pack animals. It is strange perhaps, that the lonely profession of writing can make this fact resonate so. But maybe it isn’t odd at all, when you realize what skillful hands are weaving the words.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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