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Separate Kingdoms

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  72 ratings  ·  35 reviews
From Valerie Laken, the Pushcart Prize–winning author of Dream House, comes a powerful collection of short stories charting the divisions and collisions between cultures and nations, families and outsiders, and partners and misfits searching for love. Set in Russia and the United States, these are boldly innovative stories—tales of fractured, misplaced characters moving be ...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by HarperCollins e-books
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(I won a copy of Valerie Laken's Separate Kingdoms: Stories through the Goodreads First Reads program.)

If I had to boil my overall reaction down to but one word, the word I would choose would certainly be "poignant." The stories in this collection are in equal parts beautiful and tragic, a bittersweet blend of evocative, well-worded prose and haunting scenarios. These are not happy stories. They are not uplifting, and they did not make me feel good. But they certainly did make me feel, and they
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
These eight short stories pack a punch. These are dark, moody pieces: not emo moody or overwrought angst, but a steady, grim reality without forced optimism or cheer. But in a good way, a great way: the writing is exceptional, the storytelling vibrant, and the characters are maddeningly real.

Laken's gift as a storyteller is that you still want to read, despite the painful awkwardness or the grim uneasiness the characters face.

In 'Family Planning' a lesbian couple is in Russia to adopt a baby wh
A positively brilliant collection of short stories. My full review may be read on my book review blog Rundpinne.


Separate Kingdoms is a collection of eight very diverse short stories taking place in both Russia and the U.S. with a wide variety of characters and narrators. While I’m not much of a big short story reader, I was intrigued by the premise of many of these stories and am overall pleased that I gave this book a chance.

My favorite story was one titled ‘Family Planning,’ about an American lesbian couple over in Russia trying to adopt a baby. Meg is reluctant and indifferent about the experience
Apr 21, 2011 Molly rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like dark emotion filled stories
Recommended to Molly by: TLC
Okay. Let's see. This was different. This was not what I was expecting. This was not your average, every day quick read. It wasn't a long book to read. No, nothing like that. The author did a great job at breaking it done into eight different stories, but I didn't really grasp them like I wanted to. These short stories were, simply put, interesting. Families divided, so to speak. Divided by life's challenges. Divided by emotions. Simply divided, and trying to over come that great space between t ...more
Jenny O.
Pushcart-Prize winning Valerie Laken has written a short story collection that explores the different territories we inhabit: geographical, cultural, intellectual, emotional, and otherwise. Set in either Russia or the United States, many of the characters of these stories are on the fringes of society, onlookers rather than participants. Others are cut off from family, friends, even themselves, through differences in circumstance or their own intentional will.

Spectators—The Sixth Annual Midwes
Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken is a collection of eight short stories, three of which take place in Russia and the remaining five which take place in the United States. Although the stories are unrelated, Laken shows the distinct differences between these two 'kingdoms' and different aspects of living in each country is explored throughout the collection. Many of the characters in Laken's writing are somehow damaged, there is a boy who is blind, a man who looses his thumbs, and a woman who h ...more

He turned his head from side to side, trying to shake the idea away. “What on earth is the matter with you? With us?”

Bridge laughed. “Nothing. This is just living.”

“Just living” isn’t the easiest thing in the kingdoms of Valerie Laken. In her psychologically engrossing short story collection, there is always that gaping divide: between countries, cultures, or lovers, or even that schism within ourselves.

In one of the most engrossing of t
Timothy Bazzett
Short story collections are the poorer cousins of novels in the fiction world. Publishers are very leery of them unless the author has already somehow proven himself as a saleable commodity, preferrably with a successful novel. And I must admit that I don't read many short stories myself. I heard of SEPARATE KINGDOMS from a writer friend, Don Lystra, who authored a much acclaimed first novel, SEASON OF WATER AND ICE. Now Don is looking for a publisher for (you guessed it) a group of short storie ...more
My foray into short story compilations has been pretty limited, but I can still tell you that Separate Kingdoms stories pack a massive amount of emotion into such short pieces. These eight stories literally bleed tragedy and angst, but in the best way possible. Laken's writing is absolutely stunning. Well-worded prose, mixed with bittersweet stories and descriptive language create one deep read. This is not a set of stories that will raise your mood, let me warn you now. However Separate Kingdom ...more
Dani (The Pluviophile Reader)
Full review at The Pluviophile Reader:

3/5 Stars.
(ARC) Paperback, 224 pages.
Read from December 07 to 08, 2013.

I'd like to thank Goodreads for free ARC copy of this book. This is a refreshing collaboration of intricate and intriguing short stories. This book was a quick read and I enjoyed the similar themes of division, loss and love and the emotional depth that each story contained. The author played with the dynamics of how these themes affect us, in that no matter who you
Krista the Bald Avenger
Mar 15, 2015 Krista the Bald Avenger rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Krista the Bald Avenger by: First Reads
My thanks to First Reads Giveaways for this ARC--I am not being compensated for my review.

Valerie Laken's collection of short stories, Separate Kingdoms, alternates between settings in the United States and Russia. In the eight stories, the people find themselves divided and separated--by disability, need, species, and past hurts. It's a slice of life, where there are no easy answers, no true plot, and not necessarily a "happily ever after".

I found the stories quite thought provoking and unique,
Kristin Runyon
These stories are well-written. And in her interview included at the end, Laken cites one of my all-time favorite short stories (Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery a Where Al ?jolson is Buried") as her inspiration for one if the stories, so I gave to like her. But every story is gritty; I imagine them in 1800s sepia tones. Just when I thought I couldn't read one more less-than-happy ending, I was sucked into continuing by the longest story that didn't make me want to take a break from the book (like ...more
2011 Book 56/100

Based on her Pushcart Prize, I picked up this author's book of short stories and read all eight in one sitting. Valerie Laken's stories are set far from each other, in either Russia or the U.S., but share a common poignancy and tragic sense of family and loss throughout. These are not the stories to buoy your spirits, and many of them actually have no real closure to their angst (the loss of a limb, a blind boy's shocking trip to the city, a man who loses his thumbs, a wedge betw
Adam Johnson
I love how the 8 stories in this collection are in conversation with one another. The author alternates "kingdoms" of location, and in so doing, the disabled and afflicted and blind come to share similar fates and speak the common language of loss. Even as Laken frames her characters as inhabitants of different realms, they eventually share stations of the same emotional cross. These well-observed, tightly knit stories focus on alienation, the inaccessibility of the American (and Russian) dream, ...more
*free copy received through Goodreads First Reads

Mediocre to average tales presented in this collection.....The reason I requested a copy of this book was due to fact that I am a huge 'short story buff' and this contemporary set claimed to be a 336 page collection (so I figured there must be something out of the 300+ pages that will be worth my while!!)

What I got was an ARC edition of 199 pages and after trekking through this volume I can honestly say that none of these tales stand out.

The autho
Julia Smillie
I'll cop to being biased. About five years ago, I got to take a workshop with Valerie Laken for several weeks and I'm a big fan of her as a person. I'm also a big fan of her as a writer and I found this collection of short stories completely engaging. Some might find her trivia notes at the end, which include a musical track that evokes each story, to be a bit gimmicky, but I'll take it. I was fascinated to have the insight, just as I was moved by several of the stories' tales of people lost in ...more
Each story in "Separate Kingdoms" is as beautifully crafted as a gourmet chocolate and just as satisfying. My favorite stories were "Spectators," which is about a man and his wife (who has recently lost her leg in a car accident) attending a golf tournament for amputees, and "Family Planning," which is about a lesbian couple who travel to Russia to adopt a child from an orphanage. Laken has tremendous talent at revealing the fragility of our bodies, minds, and our relationships. A really lovely ...more
This is a book of short stories, quirky short stories. At first glance, the characters seem to be ordinary people. In each story, Valerie Laken takes her seemingly ordinary characters adds a kink or quirk to the story and the reader gets to read something unusual. I would recommend this book for people who first like short stories and then for people who are intrigued by the extraordinary in the ordinary. This is an interesting read.
Christopher Hebert
Separate Kingdoms is an affecting, daring collection, both artful and courageous. Some of Laken’s characters are lost in unfamiliar landscapes, and others become lost in once familiar landscapes that have suddenly changed. Laken is at her best in those difficult moments when people are at their most vulnerable and unexpected trauma forces them to look at loved ones in new ways. Every story is a revelation.
Jessica Janson
Separate Kingdoms is a collection of eight very diverse short stories taking place in both Russia and the U.S. with a wide variety of characters and narrators. While I’m not much of a big short story reader, I was intrigued by the premise of many of these stories and am overall pleased that I gave this book a chance.

I won this book via Goodreads giveaway
Ryan Mishap
Another fine collection restoring my devotion to short stories. To pick just one theme, I'd say these stories aim for the painful or sad as proof of how wonderful life is. If that makes sense to you, you will love these (with one exception). The titular story is phenomenal, but "Spectators" broke my little heart and was my favorite.
Christy Sibila
I am not a huge fan of the short story genre, so an author has to work hard to get my vote. I found laken to be a fairly talented writer, but the stories didn't really "speak" to me, and left me feeling unsatisfied, which is the abyss of all but the most talented of short story writers.
Emily Tedrowe

These stories are vivid, off-beat, shocking, sad, and true. I felt different after reading them. Though the book is short, it lingers in my mind long after I finished it. So happy when a truly excellent collection of stories comes along.
Amy Lutzke
These stories were were entertaining and, as is typical with short stories, unexpected. Separate kingdoms is the last story in the book and is told in two voices, that of a father and son, living in their separate kingdoms.
I'm now a short story junkie, and this was a nice fix. Good stories of ordinary people in (for the most part) unusual situations. Very readable, sometimes sad.
Al Lloyd
Kind of uneven collection. Couple of real good stories but others pretty ordinary. The title story seemed like a writer's workshop exercise.
Great short stories, set both in the United States & in Russia. Drawn from real life, the stories ring human and true.
really great short stories. and not nearly as much about russia as i had been led to believe.
Dec 18, 2010 Isabelle marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I just won this book as a First Read. Will review it as soon as I read it.
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Valerie Laken has an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Slavic Literature from the University of Michigan. Her work has been published in such journals as Ploughshares, Antioch Review, the Chicago Tribune, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She has received a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors' Prize, two Hopwood Awards, and an honorable mention in the Best American Short Stories. She teaches ...more
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