This Side of Water: Stories
by Maureen Pilkington
Regal House Publishing

"So there you were, all happy and unaware, in the heart of his secret plan, until he slipped his two slim fingers inside you and helped himself to your soul."

This is a book of secrets. It is not the grand, specific, or cartoonish kind, like who stole the diamonds or who canoodled which forbidden partner. No bright smoking guns and fingerprints sparkle here. Rather, the secrets explored and exposed are of the far more deadly variety. They are the ones that grow inside people, mixed with innate shame and desires, the very essence of humanity, along with its incriminating frailties. No one is supposed to know these secrets. But apparently someone does.

In a brutal collection of dark stories that are funniest when they are most resonant, the author performs one vivisection after another, toppling the reader expectations and formulaic rhythms in stories of very ordinary people and the vicious blades that cut into everyday lives. Themes and settings persist, such as a Long Island community, Catholic upbringing, the shore club, couples at various stages in their relationships, and adults still grappling under the weight of their parents’ influence. Some characters come of age, while others are aging. But the settings and setups matter less than the staggering reveals. The anticipation in each story is crushing, but the revelations are worse.

The story summaries sound congenial enough on the surface. An aggressive third-grade girl has less control than she thinks. A husband of thirty years has a consequential New Year’s Eve epiphany. A May-December romance is based on shared stories and a surrogate form of love. A new wife tangos with her predecessor. But over each new world, presented as they are in waves of ironic clarity and familiarity, a hammer hangs over the characters’ heads. Whether they put it there themselves, or whether it grew as naturally as human life, it falls, does its damage, and its victims limp on.

a 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home