"Anne Leigh Parrish has written a collection of stories that deserve a place on the shelf next to Raymond Carver, Tom Boyle, Richard Bausch, and other investigators of lives gone wrong. Parrish writes with painful clarity about marriages turned sour, children at war with their parents, women drifting from one damaging relationship to another, and about unexpected acts of generosity-an impoverished woman giving her battered piano to a priest who had befriended her, a schoolgirl who bribes a boy to pretend an interest in an overweight classmate, then finds that her kindness has disastrous consequences. These are potent and artful stories, from a writer who warrants attentive reading." - C. Michael Curtis, Fiction Editor, The Atlantic Monthly
Award-winning writer Anne Leigh Parrish's second poetry collection, IF THE SKY WON'T HAVE ME, will arrive in April from Unsolicited Press. Her latest novel, AN OPEN DOOR, was published in October 2022, also from Unsolicited Press. Recent titles are A WINTER NIGHT, a novel, March 2021 and THE MOON WON'T BE DARED, a poetry collection, October 2021. She is the author of eight other books, most notably MAGGIE'S RUSE, and THE AMENDMENT, both novels. She has recently ventured into the art of photography and displays her work at www.laviniastudios.com. She lives among the evergreen trees in the South Sound region of Washington State. Find her online at her website, Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.
Gina Ochsner compliments Anne Leigh Parrish’s sentences as “stone-cold”—a term I found apt. There is an emotional starkness to the stories in which the characters’ quiet, almost invisible steps to escape their troubles catch the reader bare-handed by the throat. There is no sentimentality in these stories, no superfluous language to clutter the page, just straightforward and hard-hitting prose that brings each story from opening scene to artfully understated and fitting close.
Most of the time I steer clear of short stories. I usually don't feel like I get to know the characters as well as I'd like to and as well as I do when I read a novel. I like that a novel can tell a story over days or decades, or anything in between. It can contain a lot of characters because given a long enough story, I can keep all of them straight. A couple years ago I won New Stories from the South 2010 from a Facebook contest by Algonquin Books and I started to be a believer in short stories. Of course, these were the best of the best from 2010 (and they produce a new set of them each year), but it made me want to give short stories more of a chance.
Luckily, Anne Leigh Parrish's All the Roads That Lead from Home, is a short story collection that is also well worth the read. The 11 stories explore similar themes through the actions and inner conflicts of a host of unforgettable characters. Only a few of these stories left me feeling positive or at least hopeful at the end. However, at the end of each of the stories that left me feeling sad or empty, this feeling was overshadowed by Parrish's beautiful and honest writing style (and besides, not every story has to have a happy ending).
The characters are memorable. There's Darlene in "Loss of Balance" who wants to take care of her father better than her stepsister can. There's Angie in "For the Taking" who struggles both in her relationship with her significant other and with pushing a piano down the sidewalk on her block. There's Pinny in "Pinny and the Fat Girl" who "didn't mind her mother being gone, because her mother was often harsh and critical...and could really sink a cold finger into Pinny's heart" (p. 62), and doesn't mind doing all the housework in her mother's absence.
The men, though they may not be as resourceful or kind as their female counterparts, are equally memorable. Vic and Lander in "Snow Angels" could come to blows at any moment over a possible inheritance. Clifford Benderhoff in "The Comforts of Home" might be an unlikely match for his neighbor Eldeen. There's the man who escaped from Clearview Nursing Home to the Dugans' house in "Our Love Could Light the World" who might rather stay where he ends up.
Many of the stories are tied together with similar themes: vulnerable women in love with emotionally unattached men unable to meet the needs of those women, children experiencing parental abandonment, and friendships grown out of unlikely circumstances. Many of the women in unfortunate situations don't decide to let that limit them, beginning to transform themselves, though the outcomes of many of these changes don't take place during Parrish's stories. All the Roads That Lead from Home is a quick read but a dense one.
"Parrish’s characters are misfits and people who have suffered losses, like Maggie in Surrogate, whose mother abandoned her when Maggie was five, as did the mother of Angie, a much-damaged, street-wise bartender who thanklessly and unsuccessfully tries to save her addict boyfriend in For the Taking. In Snow Angels, Cory’s mom died when she was five. In Pinny and the Fat Girl, Pinny’s mother leaves Pinny’s father and Pinny for what she thinks will be a grander life elsewhere. At the beginning of the friendship between Pinny and Eunice (“the fat girl”), Pinny is troubled by the abuse of Eunice by other kids at school, and seems to feel that she is helping Eunice (the fat girl) as a favor to her. But as the relationship evolves, Eunice confronts Pinny about why she plays stupid, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Ultimately through their friendship, both girls push each other to grow up and become stronger people.
The relationship between these two girls is similar to the friendship that develops between Amelia and Mary in the title story. Amelia and her mother live in Dunstan; her father has left, seemingly in response to the mother’s selfishness and instability, and is now with a younger woman. The mother agrees to take in sixteen-year-old Mary without consulting Amelia. Eventually, the two girls become close, commiserating over their parents who act like “three-year-olds,” who abdicate their parental roles in favor of satisfying their persistent adolescent whims. When the mother announces she is leaving with a new boyfriend and that Amelia will live with her father and Mary will return to the home of her mother and her abusive step-father, the girls have had enough, and try to take control of the situation in a moment that hopefully only resembles Thelma and Louise in the most benign ways."
Anne Leigh Parrish has created a captivating selection of stories in All the Roads That Lead From Home. It comes as no surprise that many of the titles are prizewinners from prominent literary magazines. The quirky and diverse array of human behaviors displayed in these pages is sure to amuse, while also reflecting a profound depth of feeling. To give a few examples—
A woman projects the heartbreak of miscarriage onto a plaster cast of the Virgin Mary. When a neighbor girl breaks the statue and reveals its hollow core, the woman feels liberated; she finds hope of reconciling with her husband.
After a visit from her mother’s ghost, an office worker forgets to put on the concealing make-up that normally hides a birthmark she affectionately calls “Blobbo.” She lets herself be seen in a new light.
A young thief, always looking for easy money, inherits a piano then gives it away for free. We hope she may find redemption by turning in her abusive boy friend for murdering his cocaine dealer.
Pinny is a smart girl with a reputation as a simpleton. She befriends a fat girl who arrives at school mid-year. When they both fall for the same boy, Pinny manages to keep her feelings secret, although both friends make out with the boy and almost give up their virginity.
Despite a predominance of painful themes—alienation from parents, failed marriages, alcoholism—the tone of the collection is uplifting, even humorous at times: a striking achievement in itself. I think Parrish pulls this off, in part, through a persistent assertion that beauty lies close beneath many of our most painful experiences. She uses winter imagery, the dazzling vision of sunlight on snow, to convey this paradoxical conviction. In one instance, in “Snow Angels,” my favorite story of the collection, the main character realizes that her cold and withholding father has always loved her, after all. Suddenly she sees the winter landscape around her as “pure white, absolutely clear, and almost too beautiful to bear.”
For this reader, it’s the kind of epiphany that won’t grow old.
All the Roads that Lead from Home is a collection of short stories set in or around Dunston, Pennsylvania. I never know what to expect with short story collections, but I found All the Roads that Lead from Home to be an excellent read. Parrish crafts her stories with a touching, homegrown honesty in regard to human behaviour and suffering.
Many of the stories in this collection highlight the suffering of women. Topics include mother-daughter criticism, the burden of parenthood, domestic abuse, miscarriage, young love, etc. The male characters suffer too, but there is something more immediate and personal about what the female characters experience.
My favourite story was "Pinny and the Fat Girl," about a girl who pretends to be dumb to avoid her critical mother (Pinny, short for Pinhead) and Eunice, the fat girl. The two girls navigate young love and high school dating, and in the process learn that what people perceive them to be can be more damaging than any fault they genuinely possess. Even the reader is implicitly encouraged to view these girls through the eyes of their classmates, as Penny and Eunice are referred to as Pinny and "the fat girl" throughout the story.
The writing reminds me of Alice Munro, except Parrish is quicker to cut to the heart of the matter. I think All the Roads that Lead from Home would be a good book club pick. Its topics are relatable and the understated yet stark writing is sure to spark discussion.
Since I have shifted my own writing emphasis of late (temporarily) from novels to short stories, I have also been reading more short stories to help me see what is out there. I re-read Sherwood Anderson's WINESBURG, OHIO, as well as some short stories put out by Zoetrope and American Short Fiction. The stories of Anne Leigh Parrish, on the whole, compare quite well with Anderson's stories. While some short stories seem too nihilistic to me (some people seem to think realism in a story necessitates hopelessness)I did not find that to be the case with most of the stories in ALL THE ROADS THAT LEAD FROM HOME. The stories are written with the theme of how different people escape from home situations that are stifling to one's own growth and dreams. Yet I also found in many of them that they were in fact also looking for a home that fit them, and I came away with a hope that the protagonist was going to find that home. So this volume could just as easily been entitled "All the Roads that LEAD TO home." I did find that not all of the stories were of equal quality. The first few were excellent, and then the book seems to go into a lull, where the characters did not seems to have any real pop, and where the writing seemed amateurish. But then they pick up again, and offer many new characters who are well-written and alive. I would define "alive" not only as real, but with a real hope they are reaching for. In all, I found this book of stories kept me coming back for more.
All the Roads that Lead from Home is a brilliant book. Anne Leigh Parrish has given her readers eleven crisp stories that deceive with their easygoing tone at first but end with a powerful punch, a stark realization, a deep understanding of life, relationships, and hopes. Dunston, New York, is common among all stories, and suffering, characters in her stories suffer, struggle to deal with whatever is missing in their life, and Parrish presents these characters in their weakest moment, flawlessly. Her stories, however, are not melodramatic, far from it, they are honest, clean, and real. Some of my favorite stories are All the Roads that Lead from Home, Loss of Balance, and an Imaginary Life. I won’t give a summary of these stories because that won’t do justice to the beautiful prose Parrish has written. I will however say that these stories left a deep impression on me, they made me ponder. Finally, her work reminds me of Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore and as someone else pointed out, she cuts to the chase, gets to the point fast, taking you on eleven great literary journeys. Buy this book, relish every single word of it, you won’t be disappointed.
It's been some time since I've found a short story collection so satisfying and adept. Each of these stories stand alone as compelling, powerful and memorable. The women of these stories are easy to fall for, tragic and familiar. So many feel like a best friend that you've lost touch with, or perhaps even yourself at some point. Finishing the book was hard, knowing I'd had to leave these girls in their worlds where I couldn't see what happens to them next. These are good stories. Smart and real.
I loved every single one of these short stories. Each gives a glimpse into human nature and all it's complexities, and they each have a life lesson to impart, a gift from the author. I had a few favorites, most especially "Snow Angels", the story of a young rebellious girl who didn't act or think the way her father expected her to, so he sent her away. She never looked back until summoned to his death bed many years later where she finally found out the truth of things. I don't want to give anything else away, but the story was powerful.
I have never been a fan of short stories and I confirmed it with this book I just came around. All the stories are of underprivileded people, mainly women and children. In general, all of them have no idea where their life is going and their personal relationhips are a mess. Depressing and whenever I finished reading a story I felt it clarified nothing about the characters and always with the sensation that it was incomplete.
A really great collection of short stories; I often had to take a break after finishing a story because I was still thinking about it as I tried to read the next. One particular story stuck with me for so long I had a dream about it... The writing is precise and full of impact; it's wonderfully written. I look forward to reading more by Anne Leigh Parrish.
I loved these stories. Quiet, honest, powerful. They all have a low key sort of quality to them that is deceptive... the characters and their stories wind their way around your heart and through your mind, staying with you long after you've put the book down. Immensely satisfying.