Anara Guard’s second collection of short stories showcases the experiences and emotions of the domestic scene. The book’s cover is an array of windows and doors, which represents the content within. Guard explores the complexity, the weirdness, and the heartache of what happens in the home among family and significant others. She embraces how quirky and funny life can be but also mixes the humor with life’s inevitable sadness and disappointment. Reading these stories is like walking through the house next door, with its everyday miracles and betrayals, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Guard grew up in Chicago and attended the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop. Her story “Homecoming” contains recognizable Chicago tourist locations, bus routes, and roads. It is an emotional story of hard truths. The main character, Cathy, spends a hot summer day at Grant Park selling jewelry. Cathy is pregnant and living an unsteady life. After a betrayal, Cathy turns to her past: “But as she turned and left the apartment, retreating down the stairs, she could hear the word thumping on each step up through the soles of her bare feet: home, home, home” (130). “Homecoming” portrays how some people remember their childhood homes—like a fairytale—and the undeniable reality of how ephemeral and brutal those memories can be.
Guard’s other stories are on the shorter side, with some stories spanning only three pages, but every word counts. Guard packs each paragraph with moments, and each narrator’s voice is strong. Guard dives into the story in “Neighbors” with a rebellious narrator:
Don’t start with me. I know I should quit but I had worked the late shift again, Joe was after me the rest of the night, and I felt like my blood was jiggling inside my arms and legs. (19)
The narrator views her world and the family next door from the front steps. She is both daring and vulnerable, sturdy and tired. This story emphasizes windows and doorways and the way they serve as snapshots of life. “Neighbors” examines interesting questions about the revealing nature of daily activities, from getting dressed to sitting outside the front door. What stories do we tell our neighbors with our actions? How do doors and windows define us and our lives?
One of the strongest stories is actually the shortest. “Georgia” is a haunting story of family history and death. The sentences are clipped and without flowery details. The child narrator describes things as they are, pointing out how unsettling and poignant a child’s perspective of death can be. There is rhythm to this story, and the cyclical motion of it is dizzying and delightful to read. The scene where the narrator visits the cemetery consists of short sentences of mostly action, creating a beautiful moment:
When we visit, we all become quiet. Our father pulls rotting leaves out of the birdbath and drops them into a sad little pile. Some of the birdbath’s little tiles have come loose, leaving rough spots. We hunt around in the brown grass to see if we can find any. Our little sister tries to find the most. Daddy slips them into his pocket, bright squares of red and blue and green. (15)
Guard’s stories are a pleasure to read. These short stories are powerful and memorable, and although not long, they require time for reflection. Readers likely will recognize themselves in these stories, which evoke childhood memories that will feel familiar. These stories are luscious food for thought, and it will be very interesting to see how Guard continues to explore the domestic in her future work.
August 2014, New Wind Publishing
$12, paperback, 140 pages
—Reviewed by Lyndsie Manusos