I recently confessed on Book Riot, that I might be the slightest bit irrational when it comes to the books of Elizabeth McCracken.
I discovered Elizabeth McCracken in the mid-nineties about the same time I discovered my all-time favorite band, The Replacements. I have since woven the works of both artists into my heart and mind so inextricably that they have become a part of me, and thus I have a hard time explaining what they mean to me without bursting into tears. That’s totally rational, right?
For those who know me well, you will understand what I mean when I say The Giant’s House is the literary equivalent of “I Will Dare” to me.
Once you have fallen so hard for someone’s work and gone on record for being kind of loony when it comes to it, new records or new books fill you with an odd sort of trepidation and excitement. What if it sucks? What if it sucks and then I have to rethink my entire system of belief? Oh my god, I hope it doesn’t suck. Please don’t suck, becomes a sort of chant you say as you flit through the songs on the latest record or turn the pages of the book.
I’m happy to report that Thunderstruck & Other Stories does not suck. Of course it doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s a haunting and heartbreaking and humorous collection of stories filled with ghosts, both literal and figurative.
In “Something Amazing” we have a mother haunted by the ghost of her daughter, who died as a child, and refuses to shuffle off the mortal coil. In “Property” a widower is haunted by his landlord’s crappy possessions. In “Juliet” the employees of a public library puzzle over the brutal murder of their most enigmatic patron.
But, like I said, not all the haunting is about those no longer with us. In one of my favorite stories “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey” a dying man goes to a former friend’s house to make peace, maybe, with the man who made a documentary that haunted his life. I loved this story, which explores what life is like when we are constantly plagued by the person we were in our twenties.
The titular story “Thunderstruck” is phenomenal. In this one a family escapes to Paris in the hopes of getting their wayward, pre-teen daughter Helen away from dangerous influences at home. It seems to work, until it doesn’t work at all. This is one of those short stories that builds you up and then takes you apart until you are nothing but raw emotion and a single finger to turn the page.
As a reader I have a hard time putting an entire short story collection into a singular context, to find the themes that run through each of the stories and then pronouncing then, what it is “about.” As an avid music listener, I cannot do that for records either. And I always equate short story collections to records.
And like a record, I judge short story collections based on the images that stick with me long after I’ve close the cover. The more images the better. I can remember scenes from practically every story in Thunderstruck & Other Stories, which doesn’t happen all the time. Hell, there are some books I have forgotten what they are about as soon as I close the cover. Not so with this one. This is a collection of stickers.