Do Not Deny Me by Jean Thompson – A Book Review

Do Not Deny Me is one of those rare short story collections that actually gets better as it progresses.

I must admit that I picked this book up simply because it was a short story collection and, as a short story writer, I try to familiarize myself with successful authors’ styles and subjects.  When I read the author biography and discovered that Thompson only lives fifty miles away from me, well, I automatically wanted to like the book and support a fellow Central Illinoisan.

We got off to a rough start.  The first story in Do Not Deny Me, entitled “Soldiers of Spiritos,” began promisingly enough but then fell flat as it detailed a burnt out professor and an “emo” student.  “Wilderness” was not much of an improvement as it followed the stories of two middle-aged women—friends—and their troubled love lives.  The third story was almost enough to make me put down the book; “Mr. Rat” was the typical jerk at work story focusing upon an egocentric young man.

But then, with the fourth story called “Little Brown Bird,” things markedly improved.   From that moment on, nearly all of the following stories were extremely good.  In particular, I enjoyed “The Woman at the Well,” a story about a female prison Bible study group; “Escape,” a story about an elderly man still suffering from the ramifications of a stroke trying to gain his independence again; “How We Brought the Good News,” a story about a spurned lover discovering amazing art in her workplace and hunting down the artist; and, my absolute favorite, “Treehouse,” a story about a middle-aged man who just doesn’t much see the point of anything anymore, and so he builds himself a tree house as a coping mechanism.

Thompson excels at presenting identifiable, realistic characters that will most certainly remind us of people we know (if not directly ourselves).  While few of her characters are heroic, their idiosyncrasies tended to win me over (though not always), and it’s obvious they were as real to Thompson as the keyboard I’m typing upon is to me.  Her stories are well-plotted and her craftsmanship is faultless.  She succeeds in giving us just enough detail to satisfy our mind’s eye, but she does not overindulge as so many writers are prone to do.

There are five stories in this collection that more than justify the price of this book, and if you’re a fan of character-driven, convincing, adroitly written stories that reveal the hardships of the average person, then I whole-heartedly recommend Do Not Deny Me.

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