Two young women who've dated the same man navigate love, destiny, loss, and choice in this powerful debut.
Peter Herring was the center of Anne's universe in college, and now, a few years later, he's become the center of Anna's, and merely a minor player in his ex-girlfriend's world. That is, until Peter and Anna are invited into Anne's parents' home to visit with her dying mother, and he finds himself drawn back into her orbit.
Years later, when her own mother is dying, Anna will find herself yearning to reach out to Anne, with whom she had shared such a brief but intimate bond, and find solace in that moment from long ago. Perspective evolves with time, and so with time, what Peter means to each woman -- as lover, as friend, as connection to the past -- also evolves.
Through exploring Anne's and Anna's ties to Peter and unfolding the narratives of the people who weave meaningfully in and out of their lives, Polly Dugan reveals the power of family secrets, the ripple effects of her characters' emotional choices, and how poignantly their intertwined relationships shape who they are and how they love.
Possessing that rare ability to write the sweep of emotion with tenderness, Polly Dugan invites readers to witness the moments that define her characters -- the moments that come back full circle to comfort or haunt them, or both. So Much a Part of You will break your heart and still have you asking for more.
Dugan makes a solid debut with this collection of 10 interconnected short stories that involve two women, college friends Anna Riley and Anne Cavenaugh, and Peter Herring, a man in both their lives. The stories begin in the Depression (the first, "The Third Rail," features Anna's father as a youngster growing up in New Jersey) and end in the present. While part of the book's enjoyment comes from figuring out each successive story's place within the whole, this occasionally makes for a disjointed reading experience. The least well-integrated story is "Blackball," in which only Anne is tangentially involved, though it works well as a standalone. On the other hand, "Kitten Season" perhaps the book's most powerful offering obliquely ties the first and last stories together. It centers on Lindsay, a longtime animal-care tech at a humane society, who experiences life and death every day. Dugan's writing flows well and with thoughtfulness as she explores love, loss, and friendship through the three main characters and their families. Their decisions and foibles make for some emotional reading.