Book Review: 'So much a part of you'

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Polly Dugan. Little, Brown: 240 pp. $25

I'll be honest, I was not expecting a collection of short stories with this book. Sometimes it's hard to go into a book without a set of preconceived notions; sometimes it's more fun to know what you're getting yourself into, and sometimes it's unavoidable. But I also like the feeling of discovery when it comes to a new book, or a new author I hadn't yet heard of. I had absolutely no idea that "So Much a Part of You" was a collection of stories.

And yet, it wasn't just a collection of stories. The stories that Dugan does include all fit together. A story of a young boy on a railroad track ("The Third Rail") evolves into a story of a girl, Anna, who meets her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, Anne, at a party. Read separately, these stories would be good, though hardly connected. Bound together, however, you realize Anna is the daughter of the little boy from "The Third Rail."

In some aspects, "So Much a Part of You" reminded me of Elise Juska's "The Blessings," which I reviewed earlier this year. Both follow a family, or a group of individuals, through several years and chronicle important events that hold significant impact. Both are also beautifully written.

Short story collections are often difficult for me to review, because it's hard to cohesively get through a group of shorter works in a week, and chronicle it all in a column. In the case of "So Much a Part of You," as is was the case with "The Blessings," the book is too difficult to put down once you crack the cover. Instead of needing time between pieces to process what I just read, I continued forward. Before long I'd read the final story, and I realized I had formed a bond with the stories, with the words and the characters and even with the author. Those experiences are hard to come by, and difficult to let go.

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