Advance praise for WOMEN IN BED:
“What we do – or don't or won't do – for love-in all its incarnations, is at the fiercely beating heart of this stellar collection of linked stories. As exhilarating as love at first sight, and written in prose as clear and spare as a single bed, these stories linger, haunt and showcase the talents of a literary master.”
– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow
And praise for Jessica Keener's first novel, NIGHT SWIM:
“Like the adults in Rick Moody’s Ice Storm, the central couple in this novel of 1970s suburbia are remote alcoholics. ‘Love was something distant that retired to a room on the second floor,’ Sarah, the 16-year-old narrator, says, referring to her stay-at-home yet absentee mother. This is a woman who makes a divot in the soil for her drink glass while tending her roses...This earnest debut centers on Sarah as she tunnels through new depths of loneliness...moving."
– The New York Times
“Keener’s observations perfectly capture a certain kind of 1970s adolescence: the adults who tried too hard, the sudden appearance of a joint when in the presence of older cousins, the way a grownup party could spin from fun to disturbing in a blink. Most exhilaratingly, she taps into the thrilling moments when a girl of 16 can see her future, whether in music or books or a boy’s smile. Sarah watches her mother’s rose garden after her death. Like her children, some ‘bloomed haphazardly while some wilted,’ a living symbol of what goes on, no matter what.”
– The Boston Globe
“Rooted in personal sorrow, this memorable debut will strike a universal chord with readers: ‘Life was full of befores and afters.’”
“Keener understands deeply that scene writing creates powerful moments for her characters. We learn of Sarah’s irritation, fear, reticence, and desire not through discussion, but through her actions and interactions with others. And Keener’s writing is lovely; she manages to build sentences that are both precise and ornate. While Keener’s Night Swim tells of a girl who has lost her bearings, her hold on her novel is both assured and poised.”
– Jewish Book Council
Jessica Keener’s extraordinary debut novel, Night Swim captivated readers with its eloquence, insight, and humanity. “This gripping first novel announces the arrival of a strong, distinct and fully evolved new voice,” said Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants called Keener, “An amazing new literary voice.”
Now Jessica Keener returns with this collection of nine stories that thematically address variations of love – love of self, family, and sexual relationships – from loneliness and isolation, desperation and rejection – to need and passion, forgiveness and, finally, to love found.
“Secrets” follows a young woman that gets involved with a female friend who pushes her boundaries around sex, love, and intimacy.
In “Papier Mache,” a college student who loses brother to suicide is grieving and gets entangled with a professor who is a critic and over-intellectualizes everything. The student challenges the professor and vice versa in a strange power dance with emotional fallout.
“Boarders” tells the story of a young college student who drops out to be with her narcissistic lover. She lives in grim boarding house with desolate, lonely men until she realizes that she must flee to find something better, healthier, more nurturing and loving.
“Woman with Birds in her Chest” involves a woman who leaves her social worker job and realizes she has never truly nurtured herself. Her ensuing breakdown puts her loving marriage to the test.
“Recovery” tells of a young woman in a hospital room who witnesses death, escapes her own, and comes to terms with life’s uncertainties and the unexpected power of sibling love.
In “Shoreline,” a woman leaves her husband, goes to a cottage on the beach, and has a flirtation with a client. She soon discovers that she must end her marriage before she can move on to find a new love.
In “Bird of Grief,” a grad student recovering from a broken relationship projects her anger and grief onto a new man, eventually coming to terms with letting go.
“Forgiveness” is a spare, stark story of two sisters, family violence, and the quest for forgiveness.
In “Heart,” a woman meets her lover in a Paris hotel room and goes through a cycle of anxiety, worry, and the expectation that things will not work out, only to be surprised by the goodness that emerges.
Poignant, surprising, funny and profound, and always perceptive and gorgeously written, Women in Bed is a rich collection of moving tales that will engage you from the first page.
If Keener's first short story collection, following her debut novel Night Swim, can be said to have a theme, it might be women's struggles to reconcile relationships be they with friends, family, lovers, or enemies with changing perspective and internal turmoil. In the wrenching "Woman with Birds in Her Chest," a newly unemployed woman searches for purpose through volunteer work at a hospice. A waitress finally gets a chance to spend time with the regular who intrigues her, with disappointing results, in "Secrets." Several stories ("Boarders," "Bird of Grief," "Heart") visit the same character at different phases of her romantic life: a na ve college dropout on the verge of being rejected by her boyfriend; a habitual liar and serial monogamist; and, finally, a woman working at stability with a long-distance lover. The most interesting and memorable relationships in these stories are directly adversarial a student and her antagonistic professor in "Papier-m ch ," a young girl and her petty tyrant of a landlord in "Boarders," a woman and her jealous husband in "Shoreline" but Keener can convey subtler dynamics with equal skill. Although the collection sometimes drags, she demonstrates a versatile voice and ability to deliver as much exquisite detail as the stories' brevity will allow.