I didn’t want to read I Want to Show You More. It’s hard to write a good short story — it’s even harder to write a book full of them — and most writers can’t do it. A lot of the modern short story collections I’ve read include one or two good stories, plus a bunch of boring ones included just because the publisher needed to fill up the book.
I only read it because Margaret, a customer at Church Street, asked me to. I like customers, and I like flattery (it’s very flattering to know that someone trusts your opinion of a book), so I thought I’d read one or two stories and pronounce judgment.
I ended up reading the whole thing in one night. I Want to Show You More is what short story collections should be: It’s haunting, beautifully written, and the stories tie together thematically but not obviously.
Author Jamie Quatro’s stories have similar protagonists, for the most part, and she’s made the role of the Southern woman, usually such a caricature, relatable and worthy of empathy. Each story has a very specific sense of place (most take place in Georgia and Tennessee), and the South comes across like it does to most of us who live here — as home, as culture, but not as the collection of weird accents and odd quirks that we see in books and movies.
Quatro’s metaphors remind us what metaphors are for. Sometimes (like in Decomposition) they’re obvious, and sometimes (as in Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement) they’re weird and obscure, but they’re always powerful. Her themes work in a nearly magical way to draw us into the story.
For example, she writes a lot about infidelity. That’s not something I have a lot of personal experience with, but that doesn’t matter. The stories still got to my heart and made me empathize and suffer and cry. They are about infidelity, but they’re also about still being in love when everything that was good about your relationship is damaged beyond repair. They’re about going forward with your life as if nothing bad happened when your heart is broken and you feel like you’re being ripped apart from the inside. They’re about lying to the people you love about what you feel and who you are, in hopes that you can be the better person you’re saying you are. I’ve never cheated on my husband (or had a husband), but these are things I understand. They’re things that I think all people can understand.
Religion, in particular evangelical Christianity, is woven throughout the book in a real way that’s rare in fiction. Christianity is a part of life, but her characters aren’t dogmatic about it. They reference scripture and church sometimes, but not all of the time. They go to church, but they don’t preach to us about it. They know they’re flawed, and they also believe they have a claim to grace.
Be prepared. This book is weird (I’m still not sure why a tribe of people run races with statues of penises on their backs in Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement). But it’s also beautiful, and it elevates our culture out of the muck of commercialism, exposing that sometimes we feel deeply about even those shallow parts of life. And it does what fiction is supposed to do, which is connect us with the life stories of other people, and also to connect us with ourselves, to help us understand what we think and feel and how we relate to the world.