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All That Is Left Is All That Matters: Stories


All That Is Left Is All That Matters: Stories

Mark Slouka has written seven books, and they have been translated into 16 languages, making him an internationally known, critically acclaimed author. The son of Czech immigrants, he has taught literature and writing at Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago.

In ALL THAT IS LEFT IS ALL THAT MATTERS, a collection of 15 stories, Slouka paints eloquent portraits of average, everyday people as they grapple with life and its victories and triumphs. They fight not to be swept away by love, loss, death and circumstances beyond their control.

The characters in these stories live all over the world in places ranging from the author’s native Czechoslovakia to California. We don’t get to see them in long sequences; rather, we catch glimpses of them as they struggle with the immediate events of heartbreak and life-changing moments. It's a brief snapshot.

"This is serious literature with well-planned plots that are enriched with symbolism. It is meant to be contemplated and studied, preferably on a quiet rainy evening with a warm beverage."

In “Crossing,” a young father hopes to connect with his son, attempting to join his past with the present and the future, as they cross the river. They go to a place that the father had been talking about for years: “…the rivers, the elk, the steelhead in the pools --- since the boy was old enough to understand. And now here it was. He looked at the water, rushing slowly like flowing glass over car-size boulders nudged together like eggs.” And he is aware of the chance he has been given with his son: “He’d rebuild it all ---  one step at a time. He and his son would be friends. Nothing mattered more.”

In “The Hare’s Mask,” a young son tries to protect his Holocaust survivor father from disturbing memories of killing rabbits to survive the food rationing. So he hides a hare mask under his pillow for days. One day, his father discovers him crying over it. The significance of the fact that it’s days before the boy’s ninth birthday, the same age the father was when he lost his family, is clear to them both.

In “Dominion,” an elderly husband and wife, long married, find that coyotes are circling their home, which becomes a metaphor for whether or not they can survive their inevitable deaths. The man, a recent retiree, evaluates his life “…weighing his life, adding a little dust here, a little there, shaking it in his palm, then raining it out like salt. The scales tipped and creaked.” What lies beyond the “four windows, open like mouths” of their house? “Beyond them was the known world: the lake, the boulders of the wall, the endless, shoreless forest.”

In “Conception”, a young couple fighting the death of their marriage gets an unexpected lift from an encounter with a fallen, naked neighbor. And in “Then,” former lovers bump into each other after 40 years. They are both old now, and she asks him to think of her as she was then.

The title sums it up effectively: all that is left is all that matters. Because that’s all we have to hold on to for whatever life we have left. But some of these moments are heavy, and you watch people grieve, travel back in time, and learn about the untruths they tell themselves to simply cope with their present and to justify the choices they have made. The stories are poignant and well-crafted, but not upbeat or uplifting. They reiterate that life is short, and death is just a few paces away. This is serious literature with well-planned plots that are enriched with symbolism. It is meant to be contemplated and studied, preferably on a quiet, rainy evening with a warm beverage.

Reviewed by Sonia Chopra on June 29, 2018

All That Is Left Is All That Matters: Stories
by Mark Slouka

  • Publication Date: June 26, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393292282
  • ISBN-13: 9780393292282