Title: Separate Kingdoms
Author: Valerie Laken
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
Paperback: 224 pages
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
From Valerie Laken, the Pushcart Prize–winning author of Dream House, comes a powerful collection of short stories charting the divisions and collisions between cultures and nations, families and outsiders, and partners and misfits searching for love. Set in Russia and the United States, these are boldly innovative stories—tales of fractured, misplaced characters moving beyond the borders of their isolation and reaching for the connections that will make them whole.
A family, shaken by an industrial accident, is divided, its members isolated in their home and only able to understand one another from their separate rooms. A young gay couple travels to Russia to meet the child they’re desperately trying to adopt, but the experience reveals an emotional divide between the parents-to-be. A recent amputee removes herself from her body to keep her husband at bay. And the idyllic village life of a blind Russian boy is disrupted by an American dentist and the wonders of racy Western magazines. Separate Kingdoms is a rich and satisfying collection that traverses the distances between people and places in each marvelously rendered story.
Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken is comprised of eight short stories which will take the reader through varying degrees of emotions as the stories speak of strained relationships and the ties that bind but also separate. Three of the stories occur in Russia, the remaining five in the United States, with only one featuring all Russians. Each short story is filled with an incredibly deep understanding of human nature. Separate Kingdoms is a collection of deeply rich, disturbing, bleak, and emotional stories. Laken’s characters are vividly intense and quite easy to relate with as each struggles with their own inner demons. What ties the stories together so well is the collective imperfectness of life; the masks people wear in public. What really hooked me to these stories was their lack of conflict resolution, which gives one pause for reflection on each story instead of a neat, tidy conclusion. Each story touched me in a unique manner and through Laken’s exquisite descriptions, I always felt I was with the narrator of each story whether it be the Metro in Moscow, or a hospital waiting room, Laken will bring the reader into each story. While Separate Kingdoms is not long, it is an exquisite volume of short stories, which need to be read and digested slowly. I would not hesitate to recommend Separate Kingdoms to any reader and especially to discussion groups, as Laken offers up a cornucopia of information to discuss.
Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Valerie Laken has lived and worked in Moscow, Russia; Prague, Czechoslovakia; Krakow, Poland; Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa City, Iowa; and Ann Arbor, Michigan. She received an MA in Slavic Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.
Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, the Chicago Tribune, Michigan Quarterly Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Antioch Review, and Meridian. Her honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, two Hopwood Awards, and an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories.
Her first novel, Dream House, was inspired by her own experience buying and remodeling a home in which a murder had occurred.
Laken has taught at the University of Michigan and Carthage College, and is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where she teaches creative writing.
Further information can be found on Valerie Laken’s website.
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I received an ARC copy of Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.