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If I'd Known You Were Coming (Iowa Short Fiction Award) Paperback – October 1, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
The most interesting and satisfying thing about Milliken's debut collection is the ingenious way the 12 stories fit together. Though each selection stands alone, several characters reappear throughout in different contexts. For instance, Caroline, first seen as a five-year-old girl, shows up again in her teens as a heroine&'s romantic rival, and yet again in subsequent stories. Not only does this create an offbeat tone, but it makes an appealing statement about complexity of character. The protagonists tend to be intense observers. In A Matter of Time, Lorrie worries that her husband, Marty, an unsuccessful actor with little ambition, will fail to network with the successful movie producer Nick at a party. In Blue, Josie has just quit college and, feeling restless and guilty, struggles to get her bearings. In structure, the stories are loose and transparent; the reader witnesses small but revealing moments that resonate with greater significance. The shortest stories tend to come across as exercises, with schematic rather than organic details (a cowhide skirt, a dead phone tethered to a car lighter socket), but are few enough to be outnumbered by the stronger entries. The whole is greater than the sum of the already pretty impressive parts. (Oct.)
"The startling, darkly beautiful stories of Kate Milliken will make you uncomfortable, disquieted, suspicious, even weirdly aroused—and you will be left with the realization you don't know everyone you thought you knew, the equivalent of a camera pressed through the bedroom blinds of the couple next door. She never flinches, but you will."—Benjamin Percy, author, Red Moon
“Kate Milliken's stories burn straight to the darkest places in our hearts, speaking aloud the thoughts we hardly dare to call our own. In twelve flawless pieces, Milliken expertly illuminates the aftermath of abandonment; her characters, cast adrift, find themselves painfully alone, futilely seeking what was torn away long ago. Milliken writes with merciless precision about women and men, about the old and the young, about the betrayers and betrayed. You will stay up all night to learn the fates of these people, who will become as real to you as anyone you know.”—Julie Orringer
“These twelve marvelous stories expose the tenacity of blood memory: tender, accusatory, sometimes off course. Here, the aftermath of abandonment is replete with risk, sensuality, and truth; loss and replacement repeat in endless cycles, both vital and sorrowful. In these brilliantly wise, emotionally haunting stories, Kate Milliken reminds us how wildness can overtake the most mundane circumstance, how the quietest inclination toward loyalty or betrayal can alter, even determine, fate.”—Melissa Pritchard, author, Spirit Seizures
"Subtle and suspenseful stories filled with the kind of precise and original detail that portrays all the complexity of our lives."—Sheila Kohler, author, The Bay of Foxes
"The most interesting and satisfying thing about Milliken’s debut collection is the ingenious way the 12 stories fit together. Though each selection stands alone, several characters reappear throughout in different contexts. . . . The whole is greater than the sum of the already pretty impressive parts."—Publishers Weekly
“These twelve elegant, edgy, and deftly made stories are full of ravenous women, hungry for money, attention, fame—sometimes even fame by proxy—and sometimes even food. Highly compelling and a little bit terrifying, If I'd Known You Were Coming is a terrific debut.”—Pam Houston, author, Contents May Have Shifted
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"Meredith knew she wasn't pretty. She was short and wide around the middle, her face too round and her hair - not straight or curly - a tangle of thin wire. A man had not touched her in years."
Sexually abused and victimized women, like Dolores in "Sleight of Hand," who remembers the summer she was twelve when "Charlie kept me tied down in one place, on my own bed, my mouth full with his undershirt."
Then there is Lila, who dances alone for the Latino gardeners and for her legless husband ("Everything Looks Beautiful"); and Catherine, running from the memory of her hanged husband, trying to make a new life in the empty glimmer of Los Angeles with her silent damaged son ("Parts of a Boat"); and restless, sexually ambiguous Josie, still searching for a father figure ("Blue" and "Detour").
And most of all there is Caroline, a recurring character in "A Matter of Time", "The Whole World", "Blue", "Detour" and "Inheritance." In Caroline the reader follows a life's sad arc of abandonment, neglect, sexual promiscuity and experimentation and, finally, utter despair.
I generally read short story collections in installments - read a story, put the book down for a while, then read another one later, etc. It was literally impossible to do that with Milliken's stories. They are so mesmerizing, so "different" that I simply could not wait to see what the next one offered. There is a hard-edged, clear-eyed clarity to each of these stories, most of them about dysfunctional, broken familes. The relationships explored have little to do with love or romance. There is no danger that Milliken's stories will ever be called "chick lit." No, there is something eerily odd, almost frightening, in the way she looks at how men and women interact. I mean SPOOKY! In fact, hey, if George Saunders were a woman, this is the way he would write. In fact, Kate Milliken may just out-Saunders Saunders in this debut collection.
Probably not a lot of men today read short stories written by women. But I'm here to tell you that, after reading Kate Milliken's stuff, I will never again quite see women in the same way. Because this is just one of those electrifying HOLY CRAP kind of reading experiences I will not soon forget. Very highly recommended.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER