Shout Her Lovely Name
by Natalie Serber
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
“She named her cat Phil Donahue, hoping he’d greet her the way Donahue ran to the women in his audience, eager to hear anything they had to say about seat belts, war, or divorce.” (“Manx,” pg. 86)
(Because like the character Nora above, I too as a young girl watched Phil Donahue with my mom back in the day and I loved him. Still do.)
Natalie Serber had me as a new fan of her writing, thanks to her debut collection of stories, but give me a character who names their cat Phil Donahue – after (yes) the one and only talk show host Phil Donahue – and that’s someone who I absolutely want to spend time with.
Which is a good thing, because while reading the incredibly talented Natalie Serber’s short story collection Shout Her Lovely Name, we’re privileged to spend much time with young Nora (the Phil Donahue fangirl) and her mother, Ruby. Of the 11 stories that make up this collection, eight of them are interconnected and feature Ruby and Nora. (Alas, Phil Donahue the cat only appears in one of them). Beginning with “Ruby Jewel,” these eight stories are chronological, taking the reader along on a ride through Ruby’s return home after a semester of college and a stop at a bar with her father; Ruby’s brief relationship with Nora’s father and a fateful decision (“Free to a Good Home”); the ways women mother others (“Take Your Daughter to Work”), and Nora’s own coming-of-age experiences (“Rate My Life”).
I know many people aren’t fans of short stories and even less so of collections of short stories like Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout or Mrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn that are interconnected. If that’s you, try to put that aside, because Shout Her Lovely Name is a fabulous short story collection that is not to be missed.
In this collection, Serber explores the oft-trod territory of mother-daughter relationships in all its messiness, complications, and joy – and while doing so, her writing twists on a dime with one phrase, surprising you in a way that grabs you when you’re least expecting it. (“She shifted her gaze from the tapestry to his high cheekbones, full lips, the skin at his jaw line beginning to hammock in a trustworthy, I-will-still-be-here-in-the-morning way, and then of course to his unflinching eyes.” (pg. 196) Serber’s style is reflective of that of Lorrie Moore’s, especially in the title story which is an emotional piece about a mother’s response to her daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder. She has a way of bringing the ordinary to life with a refreshing phrase, a searing detail or a poignant moment – or a combination of all three – that lingers long after turning the page.
“Shout Her Lovely Name,” “This Is So Not Me,” and the final story, “Developmental Blah Blah” are the only three stories in Shout Her Lovely Name that don’t pertain to Ruby and Nora. At first, I questioned the rationale for even including these three at all, as the eight stories featuring Ruby and Nora are so strong and I felt jolted upon leaving them to enter the lives of these other, lesser-known characters after I’d connected so well with both of them. (I loved Nora, and vacillated between adoring and hating Ruby. A memorable character, for sure!) But the more I think about it, the more I think it works. I’m not sure if I can actually put into words why I think it works … it just does. Perhaps it is a reinforcement of Serber’s message that relationships take many forms; there isn’t any one way to approach this parenting gig. There are elements of us in everyone, no matter what the circumstances.
This is a very minor quibble; I’m just happy to read as much of Natalie Serber’s work as I can get – and I want more. Much more. (I’m thrilled to hear that she is working on a novel!) There’s nothing more I love than discovering a new favorite author, even moreso through his or her short stories. Natalie Serber has just made that list. As a grateful and appreciative reader, she is an author I am going to be looking forward to watching as she is truly a remarkable literary talent.
Does “Shout Her Lovely Name” sound like something you would like, too? Then you’re in luck, because the publisher and the ladies from TLC Book Tours (who sent me this book in exchange for only my honest review) have graciously offered up ONE COPY to give to a lucky winner. Simply add a comment on this post and I’ll enter you into the drawing for a copy. I’ll draw a winner on … oh, next Wed. July 11.