Author: Laryssa Wirstiuk
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Vignettes / Coming-of-Age / New Jersey / Ukrainian Heritage / Art / Young Woman / Romantic Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Painted Egg Press (9/15/2012)
Source: The author
Rating: Liked to love!
Did I finish?: I did, I savored this book!
One-sentence summary: Fifteen stories about a young woman, an aspiring artist, who struggles to find her place in the world.
Do I like the cover?: I do, it is reminiscent of a line from midway in the book, an inside joke between characters that we readers are a part of.
I'm reminded of...: Michael Alenyikov, Valerie Laken, Lorrie Moore
First line: I was worried my heart would crack and reveal me, the way Baba's treasured pysanka had done., from 'Smuggling a Boy into Baba's'.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like coming-of-age-ish fiction, smart stories about young women finding their footing, and place as character.
Why did I get this book?: When I read in the marketing material that this collection was "Stories for Anyone Who Couldn’t Relate to Holden Caulfield" -- that's me to a 'T'!
Review: As soon as I saw this promoted as 'stories for anyone who couldn't relate to Holden Caulfield', I was sold -- The Catcher in the Rye is a very strong least favorite of mine. I love coming-of-age stories and Wirstiuk's collection of vignettes immediately grabbed me as I just was smitten with our unlikely heroine.
Veda, from a Ukrainian family in New Jersey, is an aspiring artist. She's self-absorbed, sad, moody, friendly, uneasy, lovely. Veda is the kind of friend I would have liked to have in college, as new to sophisticated life as I was, plunging headlong into what we perceived, for good and for bad, as proper grown up life. She fumbles through relationships with men -- 'Not Homecoming', the story on her attempt to lose her virginity, was hilarious and heartbreaking, and all too awkwardly familiar -- and works to be satisfied with her looks while being deeply insecure about them.
Wirstiuk tells the story through Veda's eyes, and the narrative is a mix of selfish ruminations and poetic moments (like ...the skyline showed some of itself between buildings like a woman performing a striptease (p76)); I laughed and cringed in equal part. You can download a sample story for Wirstiuk's website to get a taste of her writing style. She -- and her Veda -- were the anchor to this collection and the reason for reading, and I loved how flawed and real Veda was.
The book itself is as much a treat as the stories; the collection opens with a series of captioned photographs, one for each short story, as if Veda were presenting this as an art project of her own. There are discussion questions, creative writing exercises, and Veda's Guide to a Creative Life, treats that extended my time with this book and Veda. Wirstiuk ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print this volume, and donors were able to fund a final short story by providing a word or phrase. I was dubious, but Wirstiuk made it work.
A fabulously engrossing debut, and worth splurging on -- e-book or otherwise -- as Veda stuck with me, and I'm missing her like I do a far-away friend.
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