The story collection, Tenderoni, by Kathy Fish is forthcoming soon from Cow Heavy Books. I had the great honor and pleasure of reading an advance copy. I admit on first learning the story collectionâ€™s title, Tenderoni, I felt somewhat ambivalent. Ambivalent that is until I read these touching and keenly observed stories.
Iâ€™ve read this collection three times now, each sojourn richer and more rewarding than the last. Ever since the first read, at random moments, I find myself repeatedly saying tenderoniâ€”the ways to experience the word as varied and delightful as the work itself. Go ahead, say tenderoni and see if you can stop at just once.
Tenderoni opens with â€œRodney and Chelsea,â€ a poignant and gritty story that sets the tone for this entire collection. In this tender coming-of-age tale, Rodney and Chelsea donâ€™t just experience a sexual awakening, but also a growing understanding of what it is to be human and all the horror and hope that brings.
This skillfully rendered moment resonated:
â€œHis mother died of cancer when he was five. He remembers standing on tiptoe to reach a cookie off a plate on the counter and her hand slapping his away. He tries to really see that hand, to see something about it that is especially hers, but it always ends up being just a hand.â€
The next story, â€œSpace Man,â€ one of the shortest pieces in the collection, is also rich in imagination and emotion:
â€œJane would tell him not to be afraid, that this is an infinite universe and in an infinite universe all things are mathematically possible, even certain.â€
I felt such an ache on reading â€œSpace Man.â€ The ache of wanting â€œall things to be mathematically possible, even certain,â€ even as my insides protested, â€œBut thatâ€™s not true.â€ I love how this powerful piece ends.
â€œMoth Womanâ€ is another standout. Itâ€™s layered and rich with subtext. I loved the tension of the triangles here: the couple and the strange visitor, the couple and the Luna Moths, and life, death and humanity. The unexpected comes into this coupleâ€™s home for a reason and works hardest on the female narrator. Thereâ€™s a powerful sense of mystery and metamorphosis in â€œMoth Womanâ€ and Iâ€™m left with the firm belief the narrator is forever changed by these experiences.
The title story â€œTenderoni,â€ is another stellar piece where death is the catalyst for change. Tenderness is captured here and again lifeâ€™s gritty realism. Here, as with all these stories, Kathy Fish shows great subtlety, restraint, and craft. In the searing closing image, that of animal parts fired through the air and landing in weeds, I felt the futility, waste and struggle this story speaks to. I also hoped that after this shared experience, this couple would hold a little harder to each other and would seek out life and beauty.
The sense of the sinister and coming undone deepens in the second section of this collection subtitled, â€œitâ€™s as if there are little men inside her head, wielding hammers.â€ From the opening story â€œShoeboxâ€:
â€œThey try to smoke the cigarettes, but their lungs are small and rigid, like stones in their chests.â€
This keenly observed story is also about relationships and suffering, and hope and deep bonds:
â€œThey press their palms over a triangle of sunlight on the edge of the blanket. A truck rattles past on the road behind the stand of evergreen trees. Both girls turn their heads and listen hard.â€
The rest of the stories in this section are as equally affecting and beautifully rendered. Theyâ€™re about pain, loss and the weight of whatâ€™s missing. Theyâ€™re also about resilience and transcendence.
In the third section subtitled, â€œand one night, months later, we looked up and saw you …â€ Kathy Fish pushes deeper the wonderful hints of surrealism and the absurd already threaded through the collection and again juxtaposes the strange and the real to better train a mirror on the truth of our experiences.
From â€œBe My Be My Babyâ€:
â€œNeither one of them had very large feet and they decided their four propped feet resembled a family, a mom and a dad and their twin daughters. Darryl told Joyce again that he loved her shoes and asked again what kind of shoes they were.â€
â€œIt was like the time we broke icicles dripping from the low eaves and brandished them like swords, slashing and sparkling, and you cut my cheek and dropped your weapon.â€
â€œSwicksÂ Rule!â€ and â€œAuthentic Smorgasbord Dinnerâ€ are the two stories that so fittingly end this collection. In stark contrast to the youth and romantic love in the stories that opened Tenderoni, the final two stories center on older male characters in the aftermaths of loss and trauma. These stories, though, are also full of energy and movement and I applaud their charactersâ€™ strength and pluck.
I also applaud Kathy Fish and Molly Gaudry, Publisher, Cow Heavy Books, for bringing this excellent collection into the world and sharing its riches with us.Â Thereâ€™s such rightness to this quietly great collection, in how itâ€™s written and assembled and in what it illuminates. Kathy Fish is a gifted, compassionate and grace-filled author. Weâ€™re blessed to have this book to savor.