Review: Women in Bed – Jessica Keener

Women in Bed: Nine Stories
Women in Bed
Jessica Keener

My rating:

3 star

Goodreads summary:

Jessica Keener’s extraordinary debut novel, Night Swim captivated readers with its eloquence, insight, and humanity. “This gripping first novel announces the arrival of a strong, distinct and fully evolved new voice,” said Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants called Keener, “An amazing new literary voice.”
Now Jessica Keener returns with this collection of nine stories that thematically address variations of love “ love of self, family, and sexual relationships “ from loneliness and isolation, desperation and rejection “ to need and passion, forgiveness and, finally, to love found.


”Secrets” follows a young woman that gets involved with a female friend who pushes her boundaries around sex, love, and intimacy.
In “Papier Mache,” a college student who loses brother to suicide is grieving and gets entangled with a professor who is a critic and over-intellectualizes everything. The student challenges the professor and vice versa in a strange power dance with emotional fallout.
”Boarders” tells the story of a young college student who drops out to be with her narcissistic lover. She lives in grim boarding house with desolate, lonely men until she realizes that she must flee to find something better, healthier, more nurturing and loving.
”Woman with Birds in her Chest” involves a woman who leaves her social worker job and realizes she has never truly nurtured herself. Her ensuing breakdown puts her loving marriage to the test.
”Recovery” tells of a young woman in a hospital room who witnesses death, escapes her own, and comes to terms with life’s uncertainties and the unexpected power of sibling love.
In “Shoreline,” a woman leaves her husband, goes to a cottage on the beach, and has a flirtation with a client. She soon discovers that she must end her marriage before she can move on to find a new love.
In “Bird of Grief,” a grad student recovering from a broken relationship projects her anger and grief onto a new man, eventually coming to terms with letting go.
”Forgiveness” is a spare, stark story of two sisters, family violence, and the quest for forgiveness.
In “Heart,” a woman meets her lover in a Paris hotel room and goes through a cycle of anxiety, worry, and the expectation that things will not work out, only to be surprised by the goodness that emerges.
Poignant, surprising, funny and profound, and always perceptive and gorgeously written, Women in Bed is a rich collection of moving tales that will engage you from the first page.

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This is not my first collections of short stories I’ve read. But the more I read them the more I start noticing that I’m very picky with them. It just seems that I put the bar very high for this short stories and I don’t even know how it came to be that way. There are just so many expectations that I have about short stories, and not all of them were met in this collection. Some stories were definitely more to my liking than others and I’m starting to realize why. So I’ll try to explain (but don’t be mad if it doesn’t work out extremely well, because I can only try).

What I want from a short story is that it tells me of a finished moment, it doesn’t have to tell me multiple events or span years. Just one significant moment is more than enough. But a moment on it’s own is empty, it needs to be set in a place, in a time. We need to know what makes this moment worthy of being told about and we need background info so we can understand the significance. For me it doesn’t necessarily need to have a point, there doesn’t have to be a moral hidden between the lines or a happy ending. It’s definitely fine by me to just write of a moment that just felt weird or awkward, or scary or anything out of the ordinary. In my opinion a short story should be a snapshot made up out of words.

How did this book hold up against my expectations of short stories? It did alright. Some of the stories were exactly what I wanted them to be. “Secrets”,  “Recovery” and “Heart” were definitely very strong in my opinion. They didn’t span too much time (though “Secrets” was sort of stretching it a bit) and they told of an emotion. I loved how “Secrets” just left me feeling a bit weird but isn’t that just part of life sometimes? We can’t expect for everything to be explained to us in real life, and this story showed us just that. The others were okay, but I always had some small issue with them. I’m not going to go down the list and give it for every separate story. Just know that for me there was always something missing.

I liked the title of the book and what it stood for. There are a multitude of different ways to feel love and to explore a couple of those were very interesting. Sadly enough, it was hard for me to find this link in certain stories. Perhaps this was due to me just not getting it, it’s a real possibility. But it did make me want more from the book.

In the end this was a nice collection of short stories and I enjoyed reading them. It’s just that not all of them were for me.

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