Bad Kansas: Stories
Kansas native Becky Mandelbaum captures not only what it means to live in a landlocked state with little on the horizon but more sky, she also taps into the loneliness that can come from not knowing if there is anything more than the wide, open spaces surrounding you. As a Kansan myself, I was riveted by Bad Kansas: Stories and the characters Mandelbau crafted.
From the lonely man, Deschutes, still hung up on a woman he knew thirty years ago to Patty, a recently dumped woman trying to put her life back together, the people in Bad Kansas are broken. There isn’t a happy person in the mix, at least not one who is wholly content, but all of them find small moments of joy in the most mundane tasks: diving to the bottom of a pool for a bracelet, setting off a bug bomb in a flea-infested apartment, buying an expensive and seemingly unnecessary coat. These are all gestures meant to build some kind of normalcy into the lives of Mandelbaum’s characters, and they are all unerringly familiar.
But the true strength of this short story collection lies in the development of the two silent characters in each story, the state of Kansas itself and the inexplicable nature of love. As the unnamed narrator in “The Golden State” observes, Kansas may just be “land, land, land” and “snowstorms or tornadoes or governors trying to arm children with rifles,” but it is also the home to which many of the characters in Mandelbaum’s collection wish, if only spiritually, to return. Perhaps because they learn, as the stories progress, that “love has weak legs,” and if it was easy to end love, “we’d all be alone.”
The spark and strength of Mandelbaum’s collection is its capacity to remind us that, in fact, we aren’t alone, not by a long shot.
University of Georgia Press
Becky Mandelbaum • Lee Abbott, Series Editor