I keep coming across articles heralding the return of the short story. From a literary journal perspective, short fiction has always been in vogue. There are many reasons for this. Short stories are perfect for time-starved attention spans, easy to read and fast to engage in stolen moments between appointments. Most of all, however, the short story is concentrated. As a reader, you get a full novelistic experience in a succinct bite. Amanda Curtin's stories in Inherited are perfect examples of this. They're intense, self-contained, and rich. The characters draw you into their tales of grief, their loss, and their desire, leaving you hungry for more, but also, strangely, sated. Death pervades the book, working simultaneously as setting, character and conflict. Death is everywhere, underlying the action, motivating the living, and drawing the action forward towards the inevitable denouement, and yet, as the protagonist Paige in "Live Forever" finds, "without loss, there can be no value." It's the ever-present presence of death that gives meaning to life.
There's not a single story in this collection that doesn't take the reader to the edge of experience: tragedy, loss, fear, loneliness. Many of the stories brought me to tears, but despite the darkness, this is not a depressing collection. Instead, at the heart of every story, is a sense of what remains when we're stripped clean. Each story is populated with memory, artifact, and a tiny bit of magic – a little hint at immortality that pervades the spaces these characters live or have lived in. This might be the memory of superb gracefulness: what it's like to “dance a story,” or it might be a few trinkets: “a tortoiseshell comb, a pipe, the handle of a frying pan.” The senses are in full play as we border on the indelicacy of extreme taste and distorted hunger in “Hamburger Moon.” The "sight sense" is prevalent as flaking uneven patchwork plastering gives rise to the memory of a lost cow, or paintings thrown into the Indian Ocean become a conduit to the healing of grief in “Paris Bled Into the Indian Ocean”: