Kelcey Parker’s debut collection of stories will leave you feeling, among other things, very surprised. The surprise at work is not because of the material she works with—the seemingly quotidian bricks of the domestic Midwestern suburbs—but in the way she infuses those materials with a truly unique velocity and darkly playful touch. The suburbs and soccer moms and unfaithful husbands aren’t the ones you read about in books or watch on sitcoms, but the ones you yourself drive past every day and speculate about as your mind wanders.
To me these stories have done what few have managed, and that is to bypass what we think we mean with terms like ‘realist’ that are supposed to reference a familiar framework—our own ‘real’ lives. So we’ll find ourselves or people we know in them, their stories are ours, and so goes their supposed (and often effective) premise. But Parker has done the real trick, has reached a territory of the real that shows just how far fiction of this type might push when it bothers to stop and trouble itself first. You might not find your story in this collection but they all seem close at hand, in the yelling from the neighbor’s house or the lone woman you spot checking into a dingy motel.
I was also at all times enjoyably perplexed by the emotions and humor Parker has woven, complicating every thought and piece of dialogue such that it seems one might labor under the very real sensation of experiencing several, even conflicting emotions at once. Are these stories hopeful? Nihilistic? Heartbreaking? Heart-affirming? Every sentence seems to turn where you think they’re going, which is the real key to this kind of reality, the one we genuinely recognize as our own: the stories don’t know, the characters don’t, just as we often don’t. Sometimes we do feel affirmed or utterly broken, but such concrete places are few—these stories aren’t selling anything or playing dress-up.
This notion leads to my final appreciation which is that this collection feels like it comes from a veteran source; there’s no lack of confidence or deftness to Parker’s gesturing, a steadied hand at the wheel as she careens us around the burning suburbs of her sophisticated, sharply imagined inner world.