In this prize-winning collection of short stories, Elizabeth Eslami cuts deeply to the heart of the human experience in modern America, as with an expertly-wielded knife. Written in a sparse, clear form that reminded me of Raymond Carver, Hibernate takes its characters through trials and joys of everyday life, holding up a mirror to our own experience.
The characters in Eslami’s stories tend to come from small towns in the midwest (although there are exceptions). They are often poor. In Sour Milk, Deacon’s mother expected him to be “special” because of the quantity of pink boxed wine she consumed during pregnancy, and he is bound both by poverty and by the expectations of those around him. You feel hopeful for him anyway, when he manages to travel to visit a man whose been sort of a father-figure to him and who now lives on the West Coast. In Victory Forge, an older sister watches helplessly as her younger brother is transformed into a soldier, though she tried hard to keep him close to her, mothering him in the absence of their own parents.
In Jocko Hollow, 2 Montana brothers are faced with a horrible experience that forever changes them in ways they could not have foreseen, an event that will drive an unshakeable wedge between them. In the title story, a young couple gives up the world to focus on each other, only to find that each other is not the sum total of all they desire in life.
Adwok, the main character in Adwok, Pantokrator, is a young Sudanese man living in America with his girlfriend, half-Iraqi half-Iranian, who has never been outside of the United States. As he compares his current life with the strictures of his childhood, Adwok comes to realize the truth behind his mother’s life and her unending love for him. In New Year, a brother takes his sisters back to Tehran to stay with their grandmother after their nose jobs. He’s trying to be a good brother to his high-achieving sisters, and he creeps off to a hotel to skype with his high-achieving wife and their toddler, but he’s rethinking things.
When short stories are well-written, they form complete scenes that somehow go so deep into the human psyche that they show us the human experience. This collection is filled with such stories. While these are not necessarily happy tales (like I said, think Raymond Carver), Eslami is a masterful storyteller.