Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pg. 69: "Things Kept, Things Left Behind"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Jim Tomlinson's Things Kept, Things Left Behind.

About the book, from the publisher:
The stories in Things Kept, Things Left Behind explore the ambiguities of kept secrets, the tangles of abandoned pasts, and uneasy accommodations. Jim Tomlinson’s characters each face the desire to reclaim dreams left behind, along with something of the dreamer that was also lost. Starkly rendered, these spiraling characters inhabit a specific place and class — small-town Kentucky, working-class America — but the stories, told in all their humor and tragedy, are universal.

In each story the characters face conflict, sometimes within themselves, sometimes with each other. Each carries a past and with it an urge to return and repair. In “First Husband, First Wife,” ex-spouses are repeatedly drawn together by a shared history they cannot seem to escape, and they are finally forced to choose between leaving the past or leaving each other. LeAnn and Cass are grown sisters who conspire to help their prideful mother in “Things Kept.” “Prologue” is a voyeuristic journey through the surprisingly different lives of two star-crossed friends, each with its successes and pitfalls, told through their letters over thirty-five years. In “Stainless,” Annie and Warren divide their possessions on the final night of their marriage. Their realtor has advised them to “declutter” the house they are leaving, but they discover that most of the clutter cannot be so easily removed.

The choices are never simple, and for every thing kept, something must be abandoned. Tomlinson’s characters struggle but eventually find their way, often unknowingly, to points of departure, to places where things just might change.
Among the praise for Things Kept, Things Left Behind:
"Tomlinson's tales capture the desires and dreams of small-town, working-class America with heart, humor and a bit of sadness."
Chicago Sun-Times

"In the tradition of many classic story collections -- from the Deep South back roads of Flannery O'Connor's short masterpieces to the sleepy towns of Huron County, Ontario, found in Alice Munro's exquisite work -- ... deeply rooted in a sense of place. [Tomlinson] skillfully packs suspenseful plot turns into these economical stories."
New York Times

"Jim Tomlinson's Things Kept, Things Left Behind -- short stories that prove that the best fiction need not be more than sixty pages."

"a book of unusual merit"
Kirkus (starred review)

“Jim Tomlinson uses the traditional gifts of the writer — love of place, a keen eye for the telling detail, unflagging interest in the human heart — to bring to life a very specific and eye-opening version of America, particularly working-class, rural America. In Things Kept, Things Left Behind, his care for these people and his generosity toward them are evident on every page.”
—George Saunders

“In one story within his brilliant debut collection, Jim Tomlinson describes the effect of a headshot to a rabbit’s body, using words that are applicable to the emotional impact I experience when reading his work: ‘startling, paralyzing,’ as he snatches my breath away and leaves me with an ache that is ‘sudden, sharp, and bone-deep.’ With his flawless ear for speech and great compassion and wisdom regarding measures of the human heart, Tomlinson drops us right into lives and situations that mesmerize and stun and shock each and every time. A perfect collection of headshots and heartshots from a gifted first-rate storyteller.”
—Jill McCorkle

“Jim Tomlinson’s Things Kept, Things Left Behind is a splendid debut collection of short stories that explores the enduring theme of our quest for an identity. Though deeply connected to the spirit of small towns, these stories reveal aspects of the human condition that have universal resonance. This is an impressive first book in a venerable series by a very talented new voice in American fiction.”
—Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"Things Kept, Things Left Behind is set in Kentucky, and these are the kinds of stories I love to see written (and strive to write) about my home state: realistic, certainly, but also dignified and tender. My favorites are the two that comprise the book’s title: “Things Kept” and “Things Left Behind.” These linked stories both center on the infidelity of their central character, but Jim writes about this familiar material in surprising and poignant ways. What I also love about these pieces, especially “Things Left Behind,” is their breadth. Here’s a twenty-three page story that does as much work as a novel — that has a novel’s scope and texture, and alternates seamlessly between several points of view, both male and female. But it’s a testament to Jim’s skill that he can just as successfully write the more succinct, “an-afternoon-in-the-life-of” kind of story, and those are in Things Kept, Things Left Behind, as well. The final story, “Stainless,” is such a piece, and it’s masterful.
Holly Goddard Jones
Jim Tomlinson's fiction and poetry have been published in The Pinch, Five Points, Bellevue Literary Review, Potomac Review, and Arts Across Kentucky magazine. His newest story appears this spring in Shenandoah. He was awarded a 2005 Al Smith Fellowship by the Kentucky Arts Council, a teaching fellowship at Wesleyan Writers Conference, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the 2006 Sewanee Writers Conference.

The Page 69 Test: Things Kept, Things Left Behind.

--Marshal Zeringue