Want to Read Something Truly Unique?
Updated: Mar 23
Mary Kane’s short story collection, In the Book I’m Reading, is genuinely unique, a distinction I give to few books I’ve read. Each of the stories in the book takes no more than minutes to read, yet each one packs a punch. Each one is an adventure—you never know where you’ll end up. Over and over, I would ask myself, “How did she think of that?!” But in reality Kane has captured the strangeness, the multiplicity, the absurdity, the holiness and the hilarity of life as we all know it.
Kane’s powers of description are stellar; for instance, the past has “thick shoulders all hunched, teeth in need of brushing, desires growing out all over its body like bent wire sculptures.” And she has a way with creative comparisons, as in, “He sliced the zucchini into thin wheels, enough wheels for an entire traffic jam of miniature automobiles.” The story “Cusp” convinced me that marriage is indeed, in all its details, like “a giant tooth.”
In fact, marriage is a major theme in this collection. Spoiler alert: many of the stories are linked, and feature the same long-married couple. The identity of Mr. Leopold hides in plain sight. The family cat also plays a recurrent role (“Big Cat,” “Animal Behavior”). So does the act of reading, as the name of the collection suggests. I love the way Kane represents an imaginative mind in communication with the minds of other writers. The narrator doesn’t just “read;” she slips into the worlds of her books, just as they enter hers; and it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference (as in “Tent,” “The Joys of Reading,” “Rilke, 2007, At Shaw’s”).
I continually found myself amazed at Kane’s sheer virtuosity with language. The story “In Service,” for example, is a single, effortless sentence that lasts two pages. But Kane’s stories are much more than linguistic dexterity. The stories are quixotic (“The Problem”), meditative (“Osmosis”), and often FUNNY (“A Sad Tale,” “Georgina Lloyd-Atkinson”). Sometimes I laughed out loud ( “New Old Couple”). Sometimes I felt sad (“Influences and Edibles,” “Roy Rogers, Where Are You?”) Some stories left me with a sense of awe (“Portrait,” “Love Story,” “Spider,” “Lamp,” and many others). Often as I reached the end of a story, I simply whispered, “Wow!” This is a book I’ll keep on my shelf to read again and again.