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The Souvenir Museum: Stories

Review

The Souvenir Museum: Stories

Since the pandemic, I have been reading more short stories, which I have rarely done in the past. You can mix and match through collections and authors, and feel satisfied with one solid short story as opposed to a lengthy stay in someone else’s world. The novels of Elizabeth McCracken would certainly fit in the latter category, but her stories belong in the former. This is especially true of her new collection, THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM, in which love of all kinds is given to us in beautifully plated small bites.

One Irish family wedding introduces several characters who get the star treatment later in the book. A young married couple, a blowsy Irish family, a frightened young man with an unconventional way of learning a new trade, a mother like no other, a father and son on a fishing expedition in Scotland --- all of these groups are struggling with the needs of age and society, the familiar and unfamiliar, the right way to communicate exactly what each person really needs and means to say to the other. In fact, communication --- the kind you don’t get in texts or DMs --- is put front and center in THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM.

"McCracken takes the sharp knife and palette with which she builds her beautiful novels and cuts the canvas of her stories into small exacting pieces that readers can enjoy one at a time."

McCracken has a breezy, conversational tone here, and even when she is relating difficult emotional truths between characters, we feel as if we are privy to casual conversations that speak loudly and plainly on the relationships at hand. It is as if we are sitting at a kitchen table, tea cup in hand, listening to a friend tell a story from the past. Her style invites readers in and aligns us with every character as if each of them expresses an important truth for any of us at various times in our lives. It is an elegant and gentle hook that McCracken employs to draw us into these tiny moments in much bigger lives.

From Cape Cod to the wild waters off the coast of Scotland, the mission is clear: we are all the same. We all need, we all love, we all make mistakes. The families in these stories do exactly that. If the pandemic has taught us how we all truly need each other, perhaps the art coming out as the world slowly but surely begins to turn again will do the same. Lenny and his goofball sisters, Sadie and her dramatic mom, David and his dad on the brink of elderly pain, a young boy and a tough old stage show queen --- each character is one of a kind, but the sentiments revealed to us in their inner monologues are very much like things we all say to ourselves in different situations.

As Depeche Mode says, “People are people, so why should it be? You and I should get along so awfully?” THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM tries to answer that question in the engaging relationships to which we are shown a glimpse in these efficient, elegant stories. From the hard-to-match yellow cover with a lonely blue balloon dog standing under the title to the very last word, “resurrected,” it stops on every floor of the human elevator. McCracken takes the sharp knife and palette with which she builds her beautiful novels and cuts the canvas of her stories into small exacting pieces that readers can enjoy one at a time.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on June 4, 2021

The Souvenir Museum: Stories
by Elizabeth McCracken

  • Publication Date: April 13, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 006297128X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062971289