I received A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan from Mini Book Expo for Bloggers, and it took a long time to get to my mailbox from Thistledown Press in Canada. When it finally arrived I was happy to begin reading. I've often loved reading novels and short stories that show how war can impact families, relationships, and societies. Although the short stories often do not provide the reader with in-depth war strategy and in-the-moment events, whether it is World War II or the Bosnian-Serbian conflict of the 1990s, the impact of war is palatable in the lives of the characters Henighan created.
The book of short stories starts off with "The Killing Past," which examines the impact of an aunt's story about a family's ancestor on her nephew Bartholomew. The obsession it becomes for Bart is phenomenal.
In "Miss Why," Agnieszka is an inquisitive youth growing up in Poland at a time when the nation is moving away from socialism toward more Western ideals. While she struggles to find her place in society, she meets a man with a similar outlook on the Western ideals taking over their society. It was interesting to see how they coped with the transformation of their society, though there really was no resolution in this short story, which left me a bit disappointed.
"Duty Calls" follows Tibor, who is recently divorced, and his relationship with a woman he has not seen in many years and his disillusionment with himself since his divorce. This story is not very uplifting, but it does deal with how a man, who sees himself as an outsider, will act to gain acceptance.
In "Beyond Bliss," which was my favorite of the short stories, Vivian compromises her integrity to get what she wants. To help her friend, Ray, build his publishing house in Canada, she gains the trust of Erich, a controversial author. Vivian, another character who feels like an outsider in Canada because she is British, uses her ambition to find her place in the world.
I also really enjoyed "A Sense of Time," "Freedom Square," and "Nothing Wishes to Be Different" because they show the reader a series of relationships that change between former students at university because of a single event, a relationship between a mother and daughter because of the daughter's summer job, and the relationships between a father and mother and their children when the father makes one fateful and personal decision about his own life.
While this is not one of my favorite short story collections, it does have a great deal going for it. It examines how war in the present and past can have an impact on someone, even if they are not directly involved in a conflict. Some of the characters are quirky and bit out there, but others are carefully nuanced.
Dear Readers, I would love to give away my copy of A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan to one lucky winner. Please leave a comment here if you wish to enter the contest. Deadline is Oct. 10 at Midnight EST. I will announce the winner on Oct. 11. If you blog about this contest, you get 2 more entries.