Searing, disquieting honesty

Given how sympathetic [Jean] Thompson’s characters are, and how tenderly she cares for them, I found it puzzling that after a while, I was anticipating the epiphanic, redemptive plot turns with something closer to apprehension than to the relief and satisfaction I assumed I was meant to feel. … I kept putting down the book to ponder how the greatest writers, the Chekhovs and the Alice Munros, can make the quotidian seem transcendent, while others (not that Thompson is necessarily among these) merely remind us of the claustrophobia-inducing banality of the everyday.

Part of the trouble with “Do Not Deny Me” may be that the structure of these stories can seem more formulaic than organic. … Too often, she seems more interested in finding something with which the reader can safely identify … than in risking the searing, disquieting honesty that makes us (as we do, reading Munro) see and admit something secret and previously hidden about ourselves, our behavior and the world in which we live. It’s the reader, not the character, whose epiphany can make a story memorable.

Francine Prose