About the book: Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night brings a number of Shelly Lowenkopf’s previously published short stories together in a single volume. All the stories revolve around life in Santa Barbara, the oceanside city north of Los Angeles, where people go after they’ve burned out in San Francisco and L.A. Yet there’s no safe haven anywhere. Interwoven into Santa Barbara’s picturesque setting, the people in these twelve stories reveal what their hearts and souls encounter in relationships. Their misreadings, mistakes, and misadventures bare what happens to people who love another
My thoughts: Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night will make you appreciate short stories. I’ve only been reading collections and anthologies for a few years now, but this will definitely make it to my top favourites. Only the other day I read this blog post about Hemingway’s iceberg theory, and it sort of applies to Shelly Lowenkopf’s writing: there’s a lot more meaning to glean from the stories than it would appear. Not all stories had the same deep impact on me, and I have to confess, some left me a bit confused – but overall, this makes good collection, the kind that you’d want to savour over time rather than devouring in a day. My favourite stories:
I’ve Got Those King City Blues – Placing must be important in a collection. This story makes a good first taste, enough to make you want to continue, but not so good as to set your expectations too high! It’s not as much a story as a glimpse into the life of Charlene, a forty one year old, just out of a bad relationship and looking for a chance at a better one. The writing is atmospheric and tense, and the ending leaves you wanting more.
Charlene sat up, withdrew her hand from his, circled her knees with her arms. “Doesn’t anything last, Brian Sullivan?” Even in the growing dimness, she saw the same expression on him as when she’d caught him peering into his coffee cup.
“It hasn’t so far,” he said.
The Ability – Rachel is hired as a ghost writer of condolence letters. This story is brilliant, both in its concept and execution. It is made up of tiny intriguing details of character, things that could only be caught by an experienced and observant eye. It makes you laugh, tear up and wonder how strange life often gets.
Absent Friends – This is easily my favourite story of the bunch and certainly worth buying the whole collection for. Who knew a short story could have so much to say? I’ve already read this thrice and still don’t have words to explain it. Saying it’s about the relationships in the life of Sam Zachary, who is worried he has lost his cat, is not enough. It’s a sad story that makes you put your joys and troubles in perspective, and wish you didn’t have to.
“Not everyone gets to live the span projected for them. I know it sucks, particularly if life seems to be going so well. Sometimes there are unanticipated events. Sometimes-” she seemed to consider for a moment, “-sometimes you have to make choices.”
Death Watches – This story captures the effect of the death of an acquaintance on a lonely man; and the comical inner struggle that follows, between filling an apparent void in his life and the habitual inability to make amends.
The sadness this time had begun with the news of Richard Martin’s death. Then, the sadness had begun to spread, like a spilled glass of wine on someone’s table cloth, taking up friendships, loves, old relationships, future possibilities, and, of course Langer’s own sense of his own longevity.
Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night – The title story is another well placed story, right in the middle. It follows the winding relationship between Carter and Cissy in a matter of days. It’s the kind of story that you can read over and over, and end up with a completely different impression every time. It’s also a story with a powerful makes-you-smile ending.
“The freaking universe has a mind of its own. Unfolds the way it wants.”
Messages – This story is about the relationship dynamic between two people seemingly in love, the giving and getting back, the missed signals, the expectations. You see Roger Beck, who takes his relationship a step further by moving in with Dana and her kid Frances, who is pretty okay except when she hears voices. It’s a weird story, packed with restless confusion – there is no real beginning and ending, but that works astonishingly well.
I also liked the stories Mr. Right and Coming to Terms, Witness Relocation Program and Molly, which is this strange, funny piece about a man who plans to steal his friend’s dog. All stories are about weaknesses, misunderstandings and mistakes but even the gray characters have these inevitable, redemptive qualities. The stories are set in the same world, with a few characters and places crossing over, like the Xanadu Coffee Shop and it’s a world that, despite all its issues, you want to be a part of.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a good short story, and definitely suggest it to every budding writer. At close to two hundred pages, Love Can Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night by Shelly Lowenkopf is a treat.
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