Jean Thompson’s short stories are so beautiful that it frustrates me that she’s not more revered. At least she’s not revered in the short-story centric circles I run in. It’s a damn, damn shame.
I first heard of Thompson from, of all people, David Sedaris. He mentioned how much he loved her work at a reading he did in Duluth. But it wasn’t until I read her Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay that I really paid attention. Glory be! Her collection Throw Like a Girl was one of my favorite books last year.
When I sat down to write about Who Do You Love, I thought I was going to say that while I really enjoyed the collection, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Throw Like a Girl. But now that I’ve been flipping through its pages, I realize that isn’t true. Who Do You Love is every bit as beautiful and moving.
This collection is filled with stories about the lonely, the dispossessed, and the just plain messed up. But what Thompson is so brilliant at, is the ability to not only make the you understand the character’s plight/situation, but make you realize that you really have a lot in common.
What makes Thompson such a joy to read is not just that she creates interesting characters and puts them in interesting situations, but it’s that she tells their stories with such beautiful language. She’s one of those authors who makes me sigh a lot — sometimes with delight and sometimes with exasperation.
The exasperation comes from the habit I have of writing down beautiful phrases whenever I come across them in my reading. I get exasperated because that means I have to stop reading when I don’t want to. Thompson makes me write a lot.
The title of this post is a line from her story “Mercy” about a divorced police officer and the woman he meets one night while at work.
Another one of her lines that might not be the most beautiful but puts into words a certain feeling is from a story called “Heart of Gold” about a woman staying in a decrepit old house after her husband runs off because of some shady financial dealings. In that story Thompson writes, “Instead of saying what she wanted to say, she found herself listening to what she wanted to hear.”
Because, you know, who hasn’t lived that sentence at some point in his/her life?
It’s this ability to pin point with exacting specificity those sort of moments in the human experience that are universal and at the same time feel exquisitely unique that makes reading Jean Thompson in general, and this collection Who Do You Love specifically, such a wonderful way to spend your time.