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Marry or Burn: Stories    by Valerie Trueblood order for
Marry or Burn
by Valerie Trueblood
Order:  USA  Can
Counterpoint, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Marry or Burn, a collection of twelve unrelated short stories by Valerie Trueblood, does have a related topic - love and marriage - in each story, even though the characters are all different. Reacting to a short story collection might be compared to listening to a recital; it must start well to keep your interest and a terrific ending will color your feelings about the whole experience. Trueblood doesn't disappoint on either score. The first story starts with a sentence guaranteed to keep you reading and continues to a satisfying ending, as does the last.

Amends begins: 'When she was twenty, Francie Madden shot and killed her husband Gary.' We learn immediately that he was a policeman, she shot him with his service revolver, and he had roughed her up on occasion during their brief marriage. Of course Francie goes to prison, but the important part of this story is her own self-judgment and change, and Francie is an effective narrator. The last story, Beloved, You Looked into Space, has an equally dramatic beginning: 'Our father married a woman who took an ax to a bear.' In this much longer story, marriages, love, and the enduring quality of both are thoroughly examined by narrator Jenny, who has just broken up with her boyfriend and whose father is about to marry for the second time.

Short stories are not as popular as novels. That seems strange in the present world of tweets and text messages, which are frequently preferred to phone conversations because a lesser time commitment is required to share information. Maybe those who still enjoy reading novels want to escape from their everyday lives for a little longer than the time involved in reading a short story or perhaps it has to do with the perception that a brief story doesn't give enough information about a character and her development. That being said, I sat and read a third of this book (the first five stories) at one sitting, just because they were so interesting and satisfying.

When I returned to the book the next day, I still enjoyed the stories. There are so many different takes on love in this book and the situations of the characters are strikingly different. There is Francie, the killer, of course, and Jenny, the questioning daughter. But there are also Meg whose daughter is looking for a husband online; Molly who wants to have good dreams; an alcoholic mother going to the wedding of her successful daughter; Stark Bonney, who falls in love with a woman who comes to him as a patient; and many more. They all share a yearning for love and they all wonder why love can make them lose themselves and do things that even they don't understand.

Only two stories left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. In Luck, the main character is a teenager who has suddenly become mentally ill. He struggles to return to his normal life after treatment, certain that he now can control the voices in his head because of the medication he's taking. What he must learn to deal with, though, is the fear of him that other people now have - even those people to whom he has been closest. This is an engrossing story with an ending that didn't seem to resolve his problems and leaves the reader wondering. Perhaps that's the sign of a good story, but it might also be a reason why short stories get a bad rep. The other one, She had Coarsened, seemed to be more a criticism of the way girls used to be raised than a real story about a real person.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the stories, where there were characters who seemed alive, intense, and real, with a resolution of their problems at the end, for either them or the reader or both. The varied plots and situations also contributed to this really wonderful collection. I dare anyone to read the first story and not finish this book, and if some stories make you want to stop, don't miss the last one.

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