This short-fiction collection examines various characters’ reactions to death, past regrets, and other life changes.
Joy’s (American Past Time, 2015) stories range from the wistful reminiscence of “Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World,” in which a widower reflects on the young, inept man that he was on his honeymoon, to the more cynical “The Quick Pick,” in which an unusual couple builds a life by using the winning lottery ticket of a dead man. Many of the characters in these stories never seem to completely find peace, but some do reach some kind of redemption. In “Dalton’s Good Fortune,” for instance, a broken Vietnam vet finds salvation from a fortuneteller, and in “Nina’s Song,” a man who’s carried the unimaginable guilt of losing his sister in a mall ever since he was a child realizes that his family has never blamed him for her disappearance.
Throughout these often very brief tales, no matter how dire, bleak, reflective, or celebratory they might be, Joy maintains a smooth prose style with a light touch that acts as a counterpoint to the darkness. At the same time, he fills the tales with imagery as exceptional as that in his debut novel, as in “The Girl from Yesterday”: “His face was all leathery, like boots after they get nice and broke in.” Among the life-changing epiphanies, Joy sprinkles in humor; “Pickup Line at the Ritz Carlton” is basically a setup and a punchline. He also evokes mystery in “Triage,” in which the wife of a retired, philandering surgeon suggests that he relieve his boredom by taking a mountain bike ride; this doesn’t turn out well, which leaves readers wondering about the wife’s motives. There’s also an engaging trilogy of connected pieces (“The Girl from Yesterday,” “Time Don’t Run Out On Me,” and the titular story) that follow different characters through a night on the town.
Short, edgy tales with depth.
Letting Go: Stories by Len Joy is a collection of twenty-one short stories of varying lengths, ranging from less than half a page to five pages or more. Some are written in the first person while others are in the third person. Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World is the wistful tale of a widowed man remembering the innocence of his youth. Triage recounts the snapshot memories of a retired doctor lying severely injured on a mountain biking trail. The Girl from Yesterday gives us perspective on the changes and drama in a young woman’s life after breast enhancement surgery. The Toll Collector, one of the shorter offerings, opens several brief views into the life of a courteous commuter. Guilt over the disappearance of a younger sibling drives the story in Nina’s Song. Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood connects with a famous Robert Frost poem in a poignant way, while the final and title story, Letting Go, deals mainly with the recollections of a now-respectable woman with a colorful past as she awaits news of her very seriously ill husband.
Letting Go: Stories by Len Joy presents us with realistic vignettes, like bursts of life, from the lives of ordinary people who could be someone we know. This talented author, writing in straightforward language, allows us to draw our own conclusions. Part of the charm of these stories is that they do not take very long to read, so we are immediately immersed in the story. They deal with guilt and introspection but mainly with loss and how the main characters struggle to come to grips with it. Also, some of the characters may appear in a minor role in one story but take on a more prominent role in another one. This intertwining adds cohesion to the story collection, making them almost seem like chapters in a longer piece and not just a series of unconnected tales. This feature allows us to reengage with previous characters and discover more about them. Readers who like realistic stories will be drawn to this collection and also to other stories by Len Joy.
Reviewed by A. L. Peevey for Readers' Favorite