When I went to Wordstock a few weeks ago, I stopped by the Ooligan table. They had all their books on display and I had a voucher for $5 towards any book purchase in my purse, so I gazed across the stacks of books in search for a new buy. Their newest book, Siblings and Other Disappointments, was written by an Ooligan alum (Kait Heacock) and had been released about a month prior. Earlier in the Wordstock festival, Heacock had read a section of her story, “Longer Ways to Go.” She didn’t finish the story, but I wanted to hear more. So I bought Siblings and the book next to it, A Series of Small Maneuvers, which I’ll discuss next week.
I knew the stories would all explore variations of melancholy, sadness, desperation, loss, loneliness, and depression, but I didn’t know how far the stories would go, how attached to the characters I would grow. Each story is believable and independent, full of convincing characters and true-to-life situations. I don’t know much about the landscape of Washington, where most of the stories occur, but Heacock instilled a deep sense of place throughout many of her stories, and I felt right there with the characters.
My favorite story is “No Horse in This Race,” one of the later stories in the collection. I was totally convinced by the characters of Ruthie and her father. I especially loved Heacock’s integration of Ruthie’s memories into the narrative; it can be easy to bog a story down with too much flashback, but Heacock avoids this pitfall. My heart raced while I read the surprising—but believable—final scene. The dialogue and descriptions make clear the father’s desperation, so much so that the story couldn’t have ended differently. (Apologies for being vague about the details of the story; I don’t want to give too much away.)
One of my favorite things about Siblings and Other Disappointments is that each story explores a different set of characters and viewpoints. Heacock writes from the perspective of a middle-aged trucker, a boyfriend and girlfriend, an agoraphobic tenant and his elderly landlord, a religious mother and her daughter, a college freshman and her father, and so many more. Each story brings a new person to life, which I find commendable for the simple reason that I tend to write similar characters into every story. That Heacock can balance so many distinct voices impresses me.
I have a small quibble about the arrangement of the stories. While the first story, “Upstairs,” is certainly written well, it might turn readers off with its surprising, punchy ending (again, sorry for the vagueness). Then again, I’m not quite sure which story would better kick off the anthology; perhaps “The First Wife,” with its strong character voice and identifiable strife, would lead the book more effectively. But the story order does not detract from the overall impact of the anthology.
If you enjoy reading about dysfunctional relationships and prefer your fiction short and sad, Siblings and Other Disappointments might be the perfect book for you (visit its Amazon page here). I feel the anthology edges on a 4.5/5 for its distinctive narrative voices and emotional arc.