Jennifer L. Stone’s first short story collection, Prerequisites for Sleep, is steeped in memory. Perhaps this is what sleep sometimes requires, letting one’s mind linger over certain details of the past, key moments strung together progressing toward making sense of it all and finally, dreaming.
The weaker of these 13 stories –and there are only a few weak spots– rush through lives too quickly or tie events up neatly in an implied moral. Conversely, Stone is at her best when she pauses in a moment and doesn’t worry too much about explanations, like in “Billy,” the entirety of which is a single, taut scene, something we should probably look away from but can’t because it is as compelling as a train wreck.
Most of these stories are realist in style and focus on the struggles of the everyperson, the moments that define us whether we realize it or not. Stone does this well, often packing an emotional wallop in concise, direct prose.
And yet, some of the best stories in this collection are the rare ones that toy with the magical or introduce unexplained, perhaps inexplicable, events, such as in “Thomas and the Woman”. Stone’s acuity with perspective shows in her use of protagonists of varied age, gender, education and income. A fractured fairytale –from the point of view of a not-so-wicked stepsister hard done by the medieval media– is another stand out and exhibits a playfulness that is absent from the slice-of-life pieces.
While varied, the collection is consistent in tone and style. Stone does not waste words, deftly showing us her character’s worlds in her short pieces. Prerequisites for Sleep may very well leave you wanting for more from this author.
Prerequisites for Sleep
by Jennifer L. Stone
$19.95, paper back, 160 pp.
Signature Editions, October 2014