In Lynn Sloan's engaging collection of fourteen stories, This Far Isn't Far Enough, folks are often taking things further. And they often are snagged by the past.
Take Suzanna and Kline in "A Paris Story." They had been lovers when she was 28 and he was 42. Sixteen years after their break-up, they are both still looking for something. She is determined to be the object of his desire. He had thought she might still desire him. But a complication has come up since they made their plan to meet in Paris.
"Suzanna." He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, hands clasped, inches from where her skirt fell away from her crossed legs. "Things have changed since I called. Now, I want to tell you a story. I want this story to be inside you before we go on, but it's risky this story. You see, I don't know how it will end. I don't even know what it means, to me that is."
For Kline, in fact, we see as he tells the story, it has always been the case that he is most concerned with himself. And by the end of the story, Suzanna understands that he is, "as always, lost to her." Her insistence that he desire her, and his compliance, are painful reiterations of that loss.
Such are the blind spots and succumbings this author notes. In "Near Miss," a young professor is having an affair that seems to have more importance than his marriage. Yet he has clearly been having his cake and eating it, too, for his wife is now two months pregnant. Again, the question is whether he will take the affair further, or the marriage, or perhaps his art.
After Alice told him she was pregnant, he'd tried to break it off with Meg, but couldn't. Even with the guilt, the whispered phone calls, the afternoons together in his studio, all the secrecy and subterfuge thrilled him almost as much as his direct physical longing for her. Meg made everything else possible. She lightened his life rather than complicated it.
In this narrative, fate steps in and the professor is left standing in the ruins. There he finds himself "holding his breath, waiting for the next thing to happen." It seems that the author herself is filled with that anticipation. It's easy to picture her creating the people and the situation, and then setting them free to make something happen.
Of special timeliness is "The Collaborator." Created before the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the "Me, Too" movement, this tale of interfaculty strains based in sexual harassment is prescient in its focus. A student has made a complaint, never investigated, and now the teacher is up for tenure.
I pushed him off and ran for the door. I didn't want to go back to class the next week, but I didn't want to flunk the class, so I kept going. But I always made my friend stay with me, even when we went on break. He gave me a C, only because I wouldn't sleep with him. I deserved at least a B.
A member of the faculty committee, who was once the man's friend, refuses to go along and takes things further. She is snagged on her own confused frustrations, and the men's collusion.
Reflecting Sloan's acute attention to humanity, her characters are varied and have depths that make them individuals I can care about. It matters that the Low Country chef, Ollie, heartbroken, begins to find himself. There's a problem to ponder when Virgil, the G.I. caught in corruption, chooses life over honor. That is not his destiny.
Each set of players feels fully present, and descriptions are vivid--the ham-faced man, for example, has stuck with me. Sloan uses the language with care and creativity. In the small worlds created by the limits of short fiction, This Far Isn't Far Enough offers realities that are recognizable, yet the outcomes are not predictable. The book leaves a flavor that lingers--not sweetness, but the mineral clarity of a deep well. It's a satisfying swig of human longing and learning.
Lynn Sloan's stories have appeared in respected venues such as Ploughshares, Shenandoah, and American Literary Review, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her 2015 novel (Fomite) is Principles of Navigation. She is also a renowned photographer and exhibits internationally. She and her husband live in Evanston, IL. Visit her website.
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