Author: Catherine Brady
Release Date: February 28, 2009
Publisher: University of Nevada Press
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
From the publisher’s website:
The stories in this collection explore those moments when the seemingly fixed coordinates of our lives abruptly give way – when mother love fractures, a faithful husband abandons his family, a conscientious middle-class life implodes, or loyalty demands an excruciating sacrifice. The characters share a fundamental predicament, the struggle to name and embrace some faith that can break their fall. In equal measure, they hunger for and resist this elusive possibility and what it demands of them.
The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories deals with a range of circumstances and relationships, and with characters who must decide what they are willing to risk for the sake of transformation, or for the right to refuse it. The stories trace the effort to traverse the boundaries between one state and another/–between conviction and self-doubt, recklessness and despair, resignation and rebellion. And each story propels the reader to imagine what will happen next, to register the unfinished and always precarious quality of every life.
I’m a fan of the short story format. I never really gave much thought to how skilled an author would need to be in order to give the reader a fully developed story, with characters and situations the reader would care about in just a few pages, but think about it. Without 300+ pages to develop a plot and interest a reader, you’d need to grab them quickly and make each word count. Catherine Brady does just that with The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories, a collection of 11 short stories loosely connected by geography and by the theme of disappointment.
All the stories speak to the human condition and the frailties inherent in our relationships with others. While literary in tone, it is still highly readable and relatable. Each story is completely unique yet similar, with the common thread being that they are all populated with complex characters that seem worn down by life, who are struggling, who perhaps have compromised too much or made poor choices. A shift of some sort has taken place; their expectations haven’t been met and they are grasping at something, anything, to make things better, or at least to keep things from getting any worse.
My favorite story in the collection is called Slender Little Thing, not only for its subject matter but for its structure. Ms. Brady uses an interesting technique, one I haven’t seen before. The first paragraph sets up the story of a woman named Cerise who became pregnant at 19 and, having no other marketable skills, took a job as a nanny for another family- raising someone else’s children in order to support herself and her daughter. Each sentence in the first paragraph is used to begin subsequent paragraphs.. so the second sentence in the first paragraph becomes the first sentence of the next paragraph, and so on. I’m having difficulty explaining this coherently, but it was a really effective use of repetition and not at all gimmicky. It seemed nearly poetic and reminded me of a thing I often do myself, repeating something like “Everything will be ok” in my mind in order to convince myself that it’s true.
Catherine Brady has a rare talent. Not only was she able to make me care about her characters, but she also made me wonder what they’d do next, and thoughts of them still linger in my head days after finishing this collection. Her stories grabbed me from the very first paragraph. Beautifully written and thoughtfully constructed, this is a collection I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys fiction in any form.
Please check out my Q & A with Catherine Brady HERE.
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