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Ken Wetherington
Santa Abella and Other Stories
The collection is diverse. The stories tend to be introspective. Some have traditional endings, while others end with possibility rather than closure. A few highlights: a man searches for meaning in a remote Latin American village, a young girl spends a weekend with her movie start idol, college friends in 1970 agonize over the approaching military draft, two pals seek an unusual adventure in Las Vegas, a young couple’s household is upset by the unexpected appearance of an old college friend, a struggling guitar player finds himself in a relationship with a famous writer, a vulnerable widow is targeted by a mysterious cult.
Wetherington’s first short story collection sees ordinary people grapple with big questions, from death and dying to love and sexuality. Some of Wetherington’s stories are more nuanced than others, but the author has a clear capacity for revealing something profound about the human condition. The characters’ foibles and faux pas drive the action, for example in “Sweet Jenny,” whose narrator’s obsession with a youthful crush persists across decades, and “The Postwar Years,” whose narrator pushes away the woman who loves him out of fear she’ll find out his secret.

Other stories in this collection are less nuanced. “Black Bear Lake” chronicles the mysterious death of one member of a camping party in the North Carolinian mountains, hinting at local legend and lore without a satisfying payoff. Similarly, the story “The Revivalists” seems hastily sketched out—Wetherington’s central idea of a woman paying a celebrated doctor to revive her dead husband deserves more narrative weight.

The collection’s standout pieces convey a heartfelt intensity of feeling. “Inheriting Dad” depicts a father and son’s strained relationship in a careful meditation on the complexity of grief. Charlie Harris, whose father supposedly died in the ICU, learns that the hospital made a mistake and his father is in need of home care. With no other family members available, it is up to Charlie to shelter his father, who never had a kind word for him. In “Starstruck,” teenager Angie’s nagging infatuation with a beautiful actress is poignantly described. Though some endings leave many questions unanswered, fans of searching, inquisitive short fiction will be gratified by Wetherington’s tales.

Takeaway: This probing collection of short stories is perfect for readers seeking to delve into the complexities of human nature.

Great for fans of: Alice Munro, Lucia Berlin.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A