Reviewed by Cynthia Murphy for Breeni Books,
This review is from: Little Stories (Hardcover)
Jeff Roberts's Little Stories is a little book with a lot of emotion. It really is a small book (only 99 pages), but Roberts fills his writing with enough emotion for several volumes. Little Stories consists of eleven short stories. The stories were written during Roberts's undergraduate years at the University of Iowa. The topics covered include the loss of a beloved pet, a troubled marriage, a promising student on the brink of failure, and betrayal.
In the "Prologue", Roberts mentions that he has included all of his short stories- even "the immature as well as the overcooked". That information does explain some of the differences among the stories. Some of the stories, such as "Kisses" and "Cosette" feel deeply personal. At times, it seems as if the reader is somehow invading the narrator's privacy. This is not a bad thing; rather it is a sign of the level of emotion that is present in the stories.
My favorite story has to be "Triptych". In this story, Ethan shares a long bus ride with an elderly man named Ron. Ethan has plans to spend the weekend in St. Louis with friends after another fight with his wife. Ron is on his way home after a visit with his family in Wichita. Throughout the trip, Ron tells Ethan about his life and his marriage. He was married to his wife, Enola, for fifty-two years. Their happy life stands in stark contrast to Ethan's tense situation. "Triptych" is a beautifully written study in contrasts. Even in old age, Ron has a peaceful life with his elderly dog. When Ethan goes home, a new tiff begins with his wife. The contrasts are striking and poignant. The portrayal of Ron's life is especially touching.
A high level of emotion seems to be the unifying theme in this collection. Most of the stories tackle the basic human need for love and acceptance, so this is a fitting way to unify the collection. Roberts also includes bits of humor throughout his stories. Often the humor comes in ironic bursts, such as the exchange between a man and his girlfriend in "A Question of Perspective". In this case the humor lightens a surprisingly dark mood.
My only real complaint about this book is the lack of depth in some of the characters. Roberts fails to define some of the secondary characters in most of the stories. In most cases, they are simply relegated to the background. For example, Ethan's wife in "Triptych" only appears for a few moments. Her primary actions are snapping at her husband. As the reader, I didn't feel like I knew enough about her to really judge her. Yet, Roberts does manage to portray Ron's deceased wife, Enola, in some detail.
Little Stories is a quick and deceptively easy read. Jeff Roberts captures common human experiences with a deft touch. There is very little affectation here. Like a true Midwesterner, Jeff Roberts writes in a clear, concise style with beautiful simplicity. His stories feature strong emotions and elegant writing. Short story fans will definitely enjoy Little Stories.