Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry

There’s a wonderful slow-motion tension that runs throughout these stories

The Knowledge
Christine Sneed

4/5
University of Massachusetts Press

There’s a wonderful slow-motion tension that runs throughout the stories in Sneed’s debut. We watch as her characters walk themselves over to various cliffs, scuffle their soles, kick off a few pebbles and listen to the silence as they never hit bottom. They then take the plunge, anyway.

Take the main character of the first story, Quality of Life, a young woman who begins an affair with a wealthy older man. He tells her his name is Mr Fulger, though she suspects he’s lying; after each dinner and tryst in a hotel room, he gifts her money. The story unfolds, revealing the protagonist’s darkening shades of shame as Mr Fulger exerts greater control over her life. It’s a story about power, greed, the shapes of desire and the way money grants us permissions that would typically make us bristle. But it’s also about how examining even the most self-assured lives can lead to disastrous consequences when it allows us to talk ourselves into anything.

The protagonist of the title story, too, finds herself enmeshed in a love affair with a carousel of baggage after her grandfather passes away. In By the Way, the May/December calendar is flipped, and the woman worries about her slipping memory, but parries it for as long as she can. Sneed writes so carefully that at times it feels as though the words are hardly there and we’re in the characters’ heads, taking the plunge with them.

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