WHAT COUNTS AS LOVE

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - KAREN RIGBY

Mar­ian Crotty, Univer­sity of Iowa Press (OC­TO­BER), Soft­cover $17 (134pp), 978-1-60938-516-3

These voices pos­sess a frag­ile re­silience even as they sur­ren­der them­selves to fate, new knowl­edge, and other bod­ies. Ado­les­cents and adults on the brink of crit­i­cal self-aware­ness de­fine What Counts as Love, win­ner of the John Sim­mons Short Fic­tion Award. With heartrend­ing clar­ity, Mar­ian Crotty ex­plores sex­u­al­ity, abuse, de­pen­dency, end­less hope, and other facets of love. Nine provoca­tive sto­ries wind through lives un­der pres­sure, re­veal­ing the mo­ments be­fore they’re al­tered.

For all its dark­ness, the col­lec­tion is rooted in em­pa­thy for vul­ner­a­ble women. It in­cludes a col­lege ap­pli­cant who dis­cov­ers a way to be­gin free­ing her­self from her sui­ci­dal mother; a young woman in re­cov­ery from an eat­ing dis­or­der, whose new­found ac­knowl­edg­ment of her own les­bian­ism is com­pli­cated by her sense of in­vis­i­bil­ity; an im­pul­sive stu­dent who mar­ries a Mus­lim and re­al­izes what it means to love with de­lib­er­a­tion; a griev­ing mother, whose mar­riage is re­shaped by a move abroad; and a girl who wit­nesses her neigh­bor’s rape.

No mat­ter the specifics of their prob­lems, each shares a back­ground marked by iso­la­tion. Their lonely ex­is­tences re­veal how tough ex­te­ri­ors mask help­less­ness, and how those who only seem help­less dis­cover the ex­tent of their own strength.

The no­table ex­cep­tion, “The House Al­ways Wins,” am­pli­fies ter­ror and lust. Here, a male poet-in-res­i­dence at an elite high school finds him­self liv­ing in a bizarre For­ever Home hous­ing devel­op­ment, where lux­ury homes de­signed to with­stand and ex­tin­guish their own fires nev­er­the­less burn.

Against the spec­ta­cle of homes plagued by false ad­ver­tis­ing, a raw story of mu­tual need de­vel­ops. The poet’s in­volve­ment with a woman who can­not love him un­folds in pas­sion­ate scenes; the com­bustible homes turn into a metaphor for un­con­trol­lable forces and dreams laid to waste. Fan­tas­tic as ele­ments in the story are, they high­light ev­ery­day treach­eries.

Char­ac­ters search for con­nec­tion and fail. They set­tle for sub­sti­tutes, weigh them­selves against stan­dards set by oth­ers, and look for mean­ing when the fu­ture seems un­cer­tain. Yet, de­spite the sug­ges­tion of minds be­ing hard­ened by re­peated painful ex­pe­ri­ences, these voices pos­sess a frag­ile re­silience even as they sur­ren­der them­selves to fate, new knowl­edge, and other bod­ies.

What Counts as Love bril­liantly ex­am­ines where the seams of peo­ple’s lives be­gin to fray, leav­ing a poignant el­lip­sis for how they’ll be re­made.

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