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BookBrowse Reviews Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

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Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

Five Tuesdays in Winter

by Lily King
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  • First Published:
  • Nov 9, 2021
  • Paperback:
  • Nov 2022
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Lily King's first short story collection, set mostly in New England in the second half of the 20th century, contains love stories, coming-of-age narratives and a couple of fantastical tales.

Lily King's two recent novels Euphoria and Writers & Lovers could hardly be more different: one has anthropologists doing fieldwork in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s and the other is about a grief-stricken waitress and aspiring novelist choosing between two suitors in the late 1990s. But the author's attention to the intricacies of human relationships connects them. That same intimate understanding of emotions and interactions underlies Five Tuesdays in Winter, King's first short story collection. Some of the stories are romantic, others are retrospective coming-of-age narratives and a few tip over into subtle magic realism. Most are set in New England (see Beyond the Book), but the time and place varies from the 1960s to the present day and from Maine to northern Europe.

In the title piece, Mitchell is a slightly misanthropic secondhand bookstore owner in his early 40s. His wife left him for his college friend years ago; he's been lonely and struggling to raise his preteen daughter. Mitchell has a crush on his shop assistant, Kate, who has also been tutoring his daughter in Spanish on Tuesday evenings. The way all three main characters come to rely on each other is touching.

Several stories look back to a 1980s adolescence. In the collection opener, "Creature," Carol babysits for two children during the summer she is 14. She gets caught up in the well-to-do clan's drama — a welcome distraction from family troubles of her own — but comes to realize that love can't live up to the romantic fantasies she writes about in her notebook. Looking back from the present, Carol thinks a teenage girl is a creature no one understands; she didn't even understand herself.

"When in the Dordogne" is similar for its flashbacks to a teenage narrator's experiences in the 1980s. A 14-year-old boy is left at home while his parents go to France for the summer of 1986. They hire two college students, Grant and Ed, to look after him and he has such a fun, free time that he daydreams about them becoming his permanent guardians. King cleverly introduces dramatic irony between what the boy knew at the time and what he only understood later on — that he was rich; that Grant was in love with Ed. Through a catch-up ending, she also contrasts what was fleeting about that summer and what lasted. "Hotel Seattle" picks up on a similar theme of past queer attraction, featuring former college roommates, one gay and one straight, who meet up for dinner as middle-aged men and have to decide what they still mean to each other.

"South" and "The Man at the Door" are refreshingly different, incorporating touches of magic and suspense. In the former, a French woman sets out on a U.S. road trip with her children and tells them a true-life ghost story set in an Austrian castle. In the latter, a woman trying to write a book while she has a new baby at home has an encounter with a man who somehow has obtained a future copy of her completed book; he tears it to shreds as he gets drunk on martinis. How she responds to his criticism is a delicious surprise.

However, there are also a few less engaging stories: "Timeline" feels like a rough draft of Writers & Lovers; its overstuffed storyline is a bit of a mess. "North Sea," the tale of a German mother and daughter on an island vacation, seeking what will give them life after the loss of their husband/father, is poignant, but doesn't feel like it belongs in this collection. The same might be said of "Waiting for Charlie," in which a 91-year-old sits vigil at his severely injured granddaughter's bedside, and "Mansard," about forbidden, unrequited lust that arises among a group of high-society ladies who play bridge in the 1960s.

Five of the 10 stories originally appeared in magazines. There aren't particularly strong linking themes, apart from the categories of love and coming of age. While I'd hoped for a tighter knit between stories, some are excellent, and the questions of love's transience and whether any relationship can ever match up to expectations linger. I'd certainly recommend this collection to fans of King's novels.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2022, and has been updated for the November 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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