Short stories carry a lot of baggage. The best of them are often deemed “novelesque,” a nod to their more substantial kin whose shadow always looms. And yet, a great short story is a marvel, achieving its goals in a fraction of the time and space of its loftier cousin. Two different skill sets, one might think, and utterly separate. If you read Portland writer Lily King’s debut story collection, however, you might think otherwise. The award-winning author of “Euphoria” and four other novels, speaks volumes in short form. Her new collection, “Five Tuesdays in Winter,” is as compelling and accomplished as anything you’re likely to read in the genre.

If humans were inclined to express love freely or easily, without hindrance or doubt, Lily King might be out of business. Instead she proves to be a deft chronicler of human emotion, registering shifts both large and small.

The book opens with its longest entry, “Creature,” a sly coming-of-age story in which a teen’s romantic crush and literary posturing come back to haunt her. Swayed by “Jane Eyre,” the stagy protagonist writes to a friend, “You cannot know these blistering feelings – you have not yet met your Rochester. But believe me, they are so powerful that now every novel, every line of poetry, makes perfect and vivid sense.”

In the title story, “Five Tuesdays in Winter,” a peevish divorced bookseller grows enamored of an employee, but needs an assist from Paula, his teenage daughter, to move things along.

“Paula glowered,” says King. “She was trying to train him to be more forgiving of his patrons. That was her campaign, ever since she’d grown tall, learned words like reticent, and found him flawed.”

Elsewhere, in “When in The Dordogne,” parents leave for vacation, entrusting their teenage son to the care of two college sophomores, hired as housesitters. If a bit of mayhem inevitably follows, so, too, do admiration, envy, even love.

As these examples suggest, teens and young adults are among the key players in this book. They’re at once all-knowing and unknowing, a black-and-white binary, in the way that young people often apprehend the world. Yet King also applies her keen eye more broadly. Among the scenarios that unfold are a reunion of two old college roommates, now on a collision course; a family road trip that evokes the fallout from divorce; and a ladies’ bridge game with a surreal twist.

Most striking, perhaps, is the richness and complexity of stories that seem to be about one thing, then reveal themselves to be much more. In each story, King creates a world with its own rules and rhythms. There’s a nimbleness and ease to all of it – the small intimate moments and sense of longing, the jarring detours and atmospherics. Story for story, this collection is simply a knockout.

Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News. She is the author of “Someday This Will Fit,” a collection of linked essays.


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