Monday, March 30, 2009

Tune Into Our Podcast This Friday for a Discussion of Some Little Stories

Our podcast guest this Friday will be Jeff Roberts, who is the author of the new book Little Stories. This collection of short stories, most of which were written as part his undergraduate course work through the University of Iowa, is packed with the real emotion that all of us have experienced at some point in life. Jeff deals with heartbreak, the death of a loved one, how we react to people who are different from ourselves, and the quest to love and be loved. Each short story offers a snapshot of a person at one crucial moment in his life.

Jeff Roberts has been recently nominated for a William Rockhill Nelson Award, and has been featured in the University of Iowa's Daily Palette. He currently resides with his family in Kansas City, Missouri.

To purchase Little Stories, please visit the Amazon bookstore or Jeff's page at Outskirts Press.

Title of Document: Book Review
Book Title: Little Stories
Author: Jeff Roberts
ISBN Number: 978-1-4327-2727-7
Genre and Target Market: short stories; fiction; relationships
Publication Date: 2008
Book Length in Pages: 101

When I was growing up, my favorite location in the public library was the Biography section. I enjoyed the experience of diving into another person’s life and viewing relationships and world events using a stranger’s unique lens. Always of particular fascination would be diaries through which readers can witness an evolution in thought or perspective from one stage in life to another. Even in writing that is not as bare and personal as a journal, good writers still let us into their worlds through their chosen subjects and expression of emotion. In his new book Little Stories, Jeff Roberts shares a collection of short stories that he wrote during his undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa. Each piece offers a look into the fragile human psyche and, at least for this reader, provides an intensely personal reaction to situations of social dynamics that are painfully honest. Roberts offers a glimpse into the worlds of his characters at a specific moment in their lives and does so through such engaging prose that his readers will undoubtedly remember a time when they found themselves in such a situation, or at least would have reacted the same way given the circumstances. When you open up Little Stories, be prepared for an emotional connection with the words on the page.

Roberts shares in some of his marketing material for Little Stories that reviewing the stories to compile for the book caused him both moments in which he cringed and others that brought great pride. I can understand the author’s wide range of emotions, as he reveals so much of himself in each story. Some of the pieces he admits are actual moments from his life, like the miracles of birth and death coming together at a local hospital or the feeling of being “dead inside” immediately following his divorce. Other stories appear to be comprised of fictional characters but who still evoke such emotion that the author seems to pull from a very real and personal place. Regardless of the inspiration for each story, Roberts is magnificent at developing a rich storyline and three-dimensional characters over the span of just a few short pages. He also gives us the opportunity to relive similar episodes from a place in our lives that is hopefully now wiser and more mature. To know that we have survived some of the heart-wrenching moments that Roberts details in his stories is quite gratifying.

One of the most powerful features of Roberts’ writing is the way that he examines the loneliness and insecurity that we often experience even in the most intimate of relationships. This study ranges from a young boy who feels desperately alone as he ponders the consequences of a failing mark on his report card to a husband determined to make his marriage work but instead returns home to a wife who is utterly distant and finding her romantic fulfillment through a computer screen. Whether literally through the text (such as “I never felt so alone” or “alone in this world”) or through the feelings he evokes by more subtle means, Roberts brings us to the conclusion of each story with a reminder that we really are individual entities who may be left alone at any moment. This feeling of isolation is most often not caused by a physical separation, but instead an emotional, sexual, or other manifested divide.

Often times, I will keep a collection of short stories on my nightstand with the intention of reading one selection each evening and therefore progressing slowly through the author’s work. In the case of Little Stories by Jeff Roberts, I ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. Since then, I have reopened the book many times to read certain stories that really spoke to me and I experienced a new detail each time. Little Stories contains raw emotions that never seem contrived or melodramatic, which can often occur in books through which the author is hoping to evoke a certain reaction from the reader. Instead, Roberts displays a great talent for capturing a real sense of human weakness and longing with the respect that these emotions deserve. I know that I am not done reading Little Stories, as it is a collection that can be read again and again. But, I also hope that Jeff Roberts chooses to publish another work that lets us into another stage in his life’s journey. I have no doubt that the result will be just as fascinating.

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