The Dead Still Here
by Laura Valeri
Stephen F. Austin State University Press

"But today the sky was gray, the sea livid like a bruise, and angry. The sea today spat people out of its belching wet mouth."

The best short story collections contain something more than notable writing. The tales may vary greatly in time, place, participants, and plot, but there is a unifying bond that subtly reveals why these disparate creations cohabitate. In Valeri’s collection, that bond is something from which no life is immune, whether rich, poor, sophisticated, or that of the everyman; it is something each of us must deal with: loss.

In twelve stories, a prevailing sense of loss weaves its way in and out of vastly different lives. There are older women who have lost husbands, children, and dreams of security and serenity. There are teenagers who have lost faith in their parents, their world, their friends, and perhaps most acutely, themselves. There are adults who have lost the ability to make the kinds of decisions they think they ought to be making. There are individuals who have lost their belief, if they ever had it, in any sense of permanency.

Valeri is too wise a writer to focus directly on loss. Rather, she explores the coping mechanisms employed to deal with emotional damage. She does so with prose that is intense yet restrained. She infuses even the most impassioned situations with a confident calmness. She never lectures, but there is much to be learned by her dramatizations of human behavior in difficult times. She even employs surrealism in a couple of instances that seem bizarre initially but are definitely memorable. In essence, this collection houses both exceptional writing and compelling narrative. It serves as a reminder that, in the right hands, the short story remains very much alive, well, and worthy of literary respect.

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