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The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons (Iowa Short…

The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

by Heather A. Slomski

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The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons by Heather A. Slomski
University of Iowa, 2014
Poetry; 146 pgs

A blurb from the publisher about The Lovers Set Their Spoons Down:

"In the fifteen stories that comprise this collection—some short as breaths, two of them novelettes—Slomski writes with a keen eye about relationships. About the desires that pull us together and the betrayals that push us apart. About jealousy, obsession, loneliness and regret—the byproducts of loving someone that keep us awake at night."

The above description describes this literary fiction collection well. The author delves into the mundane and ordinariness of life while capturing the desires, feelings and thoughts of those in relationships in such a way as to make the reader share in the characters' experiences. Writing wise, I thought this collection was well done, and at times beautiful. I only wish there had been more hope in the occasional story, even if not happy endings exactly. This is perhaps more my personal preference though than a reflection on the book. I prefer a variety and at times the sameness in terms of tone of the stories had me setting the book down so I wouldn't become too melancholy. As it was, each story left me feeling a bit sad and contemplative, some more than others.

Among my favorites was the title story, which, with the very first paragraph I felt the sense of awkwardness of the situation the characters were in--a woman sitting down for a meal with her husband, her husband's former lover and her boyfriend. Written in almost a play like format, the reader gets an idea of just how awkward everyone must feel, especially the narrator. The narrator's eyes keep returning to another couple dining in the same restaurant--an interesting juxtaposition to her own situation.

Another favorite was "Iris and the Inevitable Sorrow, or The Knock at the Door" if only because of the title. I rarely copy quotes down, but I really liked what Mirek, Iris's neighbor, says after Iris's boyfriend leaves her for another woman:
"Being alone is not so terrible. You can have more charge of your life when you are alone. Not complete charge--no one can have that--just more." His spoon made a soft chime when he set it against his saucer. "But first you must stop being in love." (pg 68)

Admittedly, this was one of the longer stories and so there was more time for the story to develop and come together more fully. This one took a turn in the end I had not expected.

I also really liked the second story in the collection, the brief story titled, "The Chair". In this story, there is much that isn't said, but which the reader gets a feel for by the seller's behavior. My heart went out to him, wondering who it is he had lost (perhaps his wife?) that has brought him to that moment--because it so obviously isn't just the chair. For me, this is the story in which the author's writing really shined.

Perhaps the story that hit me the hardest was one titled, "Before the Story Ends". My journal notes on this story simply read: "I have no words. This one brought tears to my eyes, touching me too close to home." It was the final story in the collection and perhaps the most powerful. At least for me.

There were other stories I liked as well, one about a widow who visits the same cafe every day, another story about a couple of shoppers who cannot stop bickering over the last box of soap, and ones about missed opportunities and regrets, betrayal and distrust, and about lives just passing by.

I wasn't as enamored with other stories, feeling like I missed something or didn't quite understand what I was supposed to be getting from them. I find that with short story collections like this though--not every story resonates with me the way others might.

Some of these stories had a more surreal feel to them while others were more down to earth. I liked the variety, even if I wish it hadn't been so sad over all. The author is able to say much in just a few words, especially when it comes to conveying emotion and tone. This is a skill I admire in a writer and isn't always so easily mastered. I think readers who enjoy literary fiction in its short form or character studies would most be drawn to this collection. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | Nov 25, 2017 |
Short stories are hard. There is such a small window of words for them to shine. They have to capture the same truth a novel does in so many fewer pages, sometimes even just a page or two instead of hundreds. The best short stories can do this and make it look easy. Heather Slomski has a couple of gems in this well-written collection, The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons, but the collection, like so many collections, is a bit uneven.

The fifteen stories presented here vary wildly in length and they use different narrative techniques, including the very difficult to pull off second person narration, but each of them is pervaded by a sense of melancholy and loss. The two best stories bookend the collection (the eponymous The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons and Before the Story Ends). Many of the stories feel emotionally reserved, both in terms of the characters and the writing and some of them veer into the decidely odd, like Iris and the Inevitable Sorrow, or the Knock at the Door, which inexplicably ends in a surreal and strange Kafkaesque scenario. Most of the stories touch the everyday realities of love and relationship and the ways in which we lose a little of ourselves in the mundane reality of living. Often the stories peter out or just fade off, as do the relationships they chronicle. In the case of Correction, this is done masterfully and perfectly finishes the story. In other stories it is more frustrating than successful. Slomski's is definitely a good writer but some of the chances she took in this sometimes experimental collection make it a very mixed bag. The bones are there but there's still a bit of tarnish on these spoons. ( )
  whitreidtan | Mar 13, 2015 |
At just 125 pages, Heather Slomski's fiction debut, THE LOVERS SET DOWN THEIR SPOONS, is a pretty quick read. There are fifteen stories here, some only a few pages long. Stories of twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, young couples, some married, more not - most of them, to my mind, rather bland and self-centered.

One of the stories, "Iris and the Inevitable Sorrow, or The Knock at the Door," employs a Kafkaesque twist that doesn't quite work. The title story reads like a short, awkward drawing room drama with stage directions. It doesn't quite work either, or at least I was unable to make myself care about the characters. Which was essentially the problem with almost all of the stories. People hide their feelings, or they don't; they get hurt, or they hurt someone, either intentionally or unintentionally. I mean I think that's what's going on. In one of the stories, "A Fulfilling Life," the narrator, a writer, is asked what his book is about, what is happening in it. He tries to explain "that nothing really happens in the book." Well, that's kind of how I felt about most of this book. I mean, I think I get it that there's a loosely unifying theme running through the stories about preparing and eating meals and how it's basic and essential to life. Well, okay, but ...

I expected to like this book; after all it is the Iowa Short Fiction Award winner. I WANTed to like the book. And Slomski is a competent enough craftsman with words. Advance praise for the book called her prose, variously: lean and refined, cool and measured, lucidly graceful, limpid and elegant.

And I would agree with all of the above adjectives. It's just that there was very little of substance - of real STORY - in these oh so artfully constructed little pieces. The exception was the final story, "Before the Story Ends," which did, finally, move me with its content.

These 'stories' are indeed cleverly and skillfully crafted. They just failed to engage my attention or arouse any real interest. Maybe I'm too old to appreciate them. Perhaps a Gen-X or younger reader will more fully 'grasp' and appreciate all the sophistication and muted angst reflected here. Me? Not so much. ( )
  TimBazzett | Oct 16, 2014 |
Congratulations to Heather A. Slomski for winning the Iowa Short Fiction Award this year for "The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons." This collection amply shows Ms. Slomski’s talent in her craft, and her deep expertise around the human heart. She renders a series of tableaux in a melancholy palette, but always combines subtly new hues from one story to the next. While it’s a careful balancing act, there’s also a highly assured quality to all the entries, and a ranging ambition: to illuminate subtle tells between lovers, to aspire to fairy tale, and to plumb the depths of serious delusion.

There are fascinating entries here: the woman whose lover returns to her in the form of a cricket – or that’s her belief, anyway; the retail clerk who converses with, and offers to run off with, a store mannequin. Some snippets capture the seemingly inevitable strife between two strangers, particularly the brief “Octaves,” while others deal with the issue in a lengthier form, especially “The Neighbors.” The finest entry in the collection, “Corrections,” a highly satisfying and beautiful story, captures a couple’s halting, ineffective attempts at intimacy, using the stunning symbolism of Douglas Miller’s drawings.

This is a series of stories written in the key of the blues, but without music’s cathartic release. They show unerringly the clumsy and short-sighted self-interest that thwarts love’s connecting impulse. What’s left is simply loneliness. Sensitive, observant, and thought-provoking in the extreme, this collection adds Heather A. Slomski’s very able stories to all the other prize winning short fiction emerging from the University of Iowa.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-lovers-set-down-their-spoons-by.h... ( )
  LukeS | Aug 16, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 160938282X, Paperback)

Winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award, Heather A. Slomski’s debut story collection takes loss as its primary subject and holds it up to the light. In prose spare and daring, poised yet startling, these stories take shape in reality, but reality, they sometimes show us, is not a separate realm from the fantastic or the surreal. Two couples meet for dinner to acknowledge an affair. A mannequin recalls a lover and the life she mysteriously lost.  Two girls observe a young widow’s grief through a café window. A man’s hat is as discerning as Cinderella’s shoe.

In the fifteen stories that comprise this collection—some short as breaths, two of them novelettes—Slomski writes with a keen eye about relationships. About the desires that pull us together and the betrayals that push us apart. About jealousy, obsession, loneliness and regret—the byproducts of loving someone that keep us awake at night. 

The characters in these stories share meals, drink wine, buy furniture and art. They live domestic lives, so often wanting to love someone yet ending up alone. In one story, a woman’s fiancé leaves her when she goes to post some mail. In another story, a man can’t move past an affair his wife almost had. Another story describes a series of drawings to detail a couple’s end. But while loss and heartache pervade these stories, there is also occasional hope. For, as the title story shows us, sometimes a breakup isn’t an end at all, but the beginning of your life.  

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:52 -0400)

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