Skating on the Vertical by Jan English Leary gets at the most human part of life: the suffering, the challenges, the joys of living life always on the edge between joy and despair. Each of the sixteen short stories gets at something a little bit harder than the last, a little bit deeper, a little bit something more for the characters to push through. The thing that makes each story so beautiful is the humanity with which Leary brings the characters to us. There aren’t always happy endings; in fact, they’re often nowhere near happily-ever-after, but Leary always make sure to close her stories in just the right way, leaving the reader feeling completely fulfilled, if never satisfied.
Some of the most visceral stories are those that dive into issues like addiction, abortion, and self-injury — stories that reach into the readers heart and dig a bit further for the most intense reaction.
“Eskimo Pie,” for example, tells the story of grade school teacher with a history of eating disorders who is frustrated with her less than cool student and finds herself spiraling back into addiction in the middle of a class field trip. “Eskimo Pie” tugs at that part of us that feels for every nerdy kid, the part that cries for someone to make the right choice even when the moment to make that choice has already passed. “Eskimo Pie” is one of Leary’s stories that does have an ending that brings at least the smallest hint of a smile to the reader.
Another, story “Rocky Road,” brings into play a mother and daughter with a once perfect, now strained, relationship. Now that Leigh has cancer, things are different. More different though because of Vena, Leigh’s live-in nurse that her daughter Candace can’t stand. As Candace begins to feel further and further from her fading mother, she becomes more and more resentful towards Vena, until Leigh reminds Candace of a life they once had, and a life she wants Candace to always remember. Leary does a fantastic job in “Rock Road,” of tying the story into the most imperfect, beautifully searing bow.
As a whole, Skating on the Vertical, is lyrical work of art that grabs your heart at every turn.
Slated for publication by Fomite press on November 1, 2017, you can preorder a copy of Skating on the Vertical by Jan Leary at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.