Better Than My Own Life by Laura Weddle | Anthology

By Orla McAlinden

I have been delving into single-author collections of short stories lately, and for some reason, several have been based in the Southern States of the United States. Debra Leigh Scott’s “Other likely stories” and Marie Parson’s “The Devil’s Back” can be highly recommended,, and here is a third strong collection to add.

Laura Weddle is a retired professor from the Kentucky Community College system, and it is unsurprising that the theme of education weaves through her second collection of short stories. The choices people make, particularly women, in relation to their education resonate through every story. From the California wild-child who is removed from Berkeley by her strict parents and sent off to the Boondock,s to a college with a policy of “in loco parentis”, to Karen, who fears that her enrolment in a nursing program will alienate her husband, the choices (and the tragic lack of choice of many) of the women in the book shine a less than edifying light on life in the southern US only a few short decades ago.

I enjoyed the detail of the stories, the seemingly commonplace masking a deeper understanding of what makes a woman, what makes a career, what makes a mother. And what can, only too easily, unmake them too.

The first four stories in the book interlink and weave backwards and forwards through the life of Lilly and her family.

The stories in part 2 are stand alone stories, a good mix of historical and contemporary settings and always laced through with the query, “What is love? How shall it manifest itself in my life?” There is love and loss and redemption and failure.

In general the stories are calmly understated, written sparsely and with little ornamentation, to great effect. The final story in the collection had me racing through the words at break-neck speed with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and yet, upon re-reading, it is as sparse and sparing of melodrama as the rest of the collection; no mean feat.

Although the collection (and the two others mentioned above) is full of sex and deal with issues of abuse, sexuality, desire, love and loss, it is refreshingly written without the brutal vulgarity which characterises a lot of modern short fiction, (I call this the three C’s syndrome, and although I am not a prude, there are only so many times I can read the three C words in one story without sighing and yawning.)

I can recommend this collection to anyone interested in women’s issues, or Southern identity, or who just wants to lose themselves in a good tale, and maybe, like me, explore a world with which they are only superficially familiar.

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