To Begin Again: Stories by Jen Knox (All Things That Matter Press, $15.99, 139 pages)
Jen Knox, author of the memoir Musical Chairs, has crafted a selection of short stories about life’s small and big surprises. These tales remind us that life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
Knox can write: “…when Wallace would glance over at his son, he saw, finally, the boy’s ability to appreciate the silence as much as he did, and he knew that the boy was learning, finally beginning to understand how important it is to be still.” And the best of the stories (“The Probability of Him”) call to mind Maile Meloy and Alethea Black. Some of the stories (“The Millers,” “Cheers”), however, go nowhere.
This is a themed compilation about life’s lessons. What seems to be missing is the overall message that the reader is supposed to take away from the experience of reading them. I felt as if I had listened to a concept record album, with a few excellent songs, many average ones, and a handful of throw aways. This raises another issue with Knox’s writing. While she has a uniquely strong voice, it’s never a singular one. If this were music, I’d say that some of the songs were too loud, some too soft and what was missing is the pleasing mid-range tone that the human ear desires to hear.
Perhaps To Begin Again is the writing exercise that Knox needed to undertake before tacking a debut novel. If so, this reader believes that she has the potential to deliver one of general interest; although, there will be those who will continue to find her view of life a bit too harsh and gritty.
If you like reading the works of a writer who has not yet been toned down by the publishing industry, you may well enjoy the stories in To Begin Again.
Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Book Review. To Begin Again is also available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download. “…a unique collection of stories that urges us to examine the complex wounds and wonderments of the human experience.” Beth Hoffman, author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.