Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Separate Kingdoms by Valarie Laken
A woman waiting in the hospital as her father lies dying. A man who is trying to help his wife regain her life after a horrible car accident that has taken her leg. Refugees trying to fit into the culture of another country. A man left behind in his parents' house as the neighborhood dissolves into poverty and decay. These are the protagonists in Valerie Laken's stories found in Separate Kingdoms. Each faces a challenge that separates them from others; each struggles to find a way to span the void and reestablish contact with those around them.
Laken was born in Illinois and has lived and worked in Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic. Her work has appeared in journals such as Ploughshares, the Missouri Review, the Antioch Review and the Chicago Tribune. She has also written a novel, Dream House. She has won a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors' Prize and two Hopwood Awards. Laken teaches at the Universary of Wisconsin.
Readers interested in short stories will be struck by the stark beauty of Laken's stories. Her characters face challenges, some of them bodily, some of them isolation, but regardless of their bleak situations, a tendril of hope insists on growing and searching for connection and a better tomorrow. This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and those searching for an answer to how others face the everyday challenges life throws at most of us sooner or later.