Books

Review | 'The Necessaries'

Iowa author stretches herself in newest collection

By Rob Cline, correspondent

Misty Urban’s story collection “A Lesson in Manners” was easily one of my favorite books of 2016. Now, Urban, who lives and teaches in Muscatine, has released “The Necessaries,” a second collection of stories that reaffirms her gifts while extending her range.

The 10 stories in “The Necessaries” are arguably more varied than those found in Urban’s debut. They range in length from a page or two to better than 50 pages. They are rendered in a number of distinct styles, as well — from a second person reflection on romance gone wrong (“Smoke Inhalation”) to a story that is less narrative than lovely, heartrending list (“This is How to Hold”) to a piece rendered entirely as angry, funny, engaging entries on a lesbian’s branded blog.

It might be an overstatement to call any of these stories “experimental,” but the collection does read as though the author was committed to experimenting with any and all elements she could employ to tell her tales. As a result, even the less successful pieces in “The Necessaries” — “Ficus,” a story of a woman ending her therapy, comes to mind — are less successful in interesting ways.

Even as Urban tries new approaches from story to story, she maintains her focus on characters and their longings. “The Necessaries” is populated with individuals every bit as memorable — for their hopes, their disappointments, and their unique voices — as those found in “A Lesson in Manners.”

Urban’s new collection is exciting not just because the stories found within it are strong, but because this collection demonstrates that she is a writer intent on pushing herself to stretch in new directions.

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