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November 10, 2013

The Other Side of Youth by Kelli Deeth

the-other-side-of-youthI think that most of us in our 30s will see ourselves somewhere in Kelli Deeth’s short story collection The Other Side of Youth. For me, it was this passage from “Something Happy”:

“I have your grandmother’s china for you,” her mother said. “She took good care of it.”

“I don’t really have room for it,” Carmen said. She suddenly saw her grandmother’s hands–solid and covered in age spots.

“But you will,” her mother said. Carmen heard a strain in her mother’s voice, but when Carmen looked, her mother was not exactly smiling, but looking up and off at something pleasant only she could see.

It reminds me of a conversation my mother and I have had a million times, and all the grandmothers’ china I don’t have room for in my apartment, never mind that I’ve never had china of my own. And that I’ll probably never own a house ever, which would come with a basement I could put the china in until it came time to pass it on to my own daughter to keep in a box and never use.

This passage also reminds me of the woman in Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” whose husband was born the night the Titanic went down, the woman who told Didion that someday she’d be able to afford a house that code $1000 a month. “Someday you will,” she said lazily. “Someday it all comes.”

And Kelli Deeth’s book is about all the ways that it doesn’t, how those inevitable things like basements, china and having babies can go amiss. The final point in particular, which I thought was this book’s most remarkable feature. Just as we’re lately doing a terrific job exploring the many facets and varying experiences of motherhood, so too does Deeth show that not having children is a land of many stories and different experiences. Her characters are childless by choice or otherwise, ambivalent or despairing, looking toward adopting, desperately trying to hold onto high-risk pregnancies, trying to process the emotional pain and trauma of miscarriage, trying to maintain relationships under such circumstances.

A few of these stories are about young women, gritty stories about innocence lost too soon (and isn’t it always too soon)? In those stories of women in their 30s, on “the other side of youth,” Deeth shows that loss of innocence can be just as devastating, illusions only now being shed about what life gives and takes away.

These are dark stories, and yet there glimmers spots of hope and moments of illumination. Lives in pieces may seem like shards, but there is fascinating texture to so many edges.

One thought on “The Other Side of Youth by Kelli Deeth”

  1. Joan Clare says:

    Does this mean I can sell Grandma’s china? It could be worth millions –

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