First of all, I have to admit that this review is probably going to be a little biased because the author happens to be a friend of mine. I’ve known Mike for twenty-three years (Jesus, really?) since I was fourteen. We went to nerd camp together — a total of nine weeks over the course of three years. We took writing classes together and wrote letters during the off-season (yes letters! On paper!) A character in his first published work was based on and named after me, a fact that still, nearly twenty years later, inordinately pleases me. I like the guy. Lucky for me, I also have always liked his work. From those early stories to his blog, of which I am a Constant Reader, he’s always had a way with words and a unique view on the world. This book doesn’t disappoint.
You Might Forget The Sky Was Ever Blue is a series of vaguely related short stories that mostly take place in a rotting town in upstate New York called Shermantown. It’s one of those places which used to have a factory, but now it doesn’t, and the people who stay there are still not sure how to move on. It’s the kind of place where people in diners get interviewed about why they voted for Trump, and the words “economic insecurity” will probably come up, which is both accurate and not. I know this kind of place because I grew up in one. As the stories unfold, Shermantown becomes a character in them, creeping around the edges of nearly every story.
I think I’d probably say my favorite was the first piece in the book, called “Prophecy,” which is the story of an elementary school teacher and his wife. It’s hard to pin down what it’s about, exactly. It’s more a feeling of rising tension and the thought that something might happen. Many of the stories are like that–tension that builds uncomfortably. Some resolve. Some don’t. The characters aren’t all likable, and they don’t necessarily make good decisions. Nearly all of them are sad in some way, and the characters who aren’t sad are frankly a bit suspicious. There were some stories where I wished there could be more. There were one or two where I was very, very glad when they ended. There are thoughts about family, and friendships, though the families are off-kilter and the friendships (and relationships) seem to be rotting along with the town.
To be honest, this style of work is not really my jam. I prefer my fiction funny, full of monsters, or ideally both. These stories weren’t dark, but they were a deceptively sharp knife which cut just a little too close to the bone for me. I was deeply impressed with the careful, deliberate way they were put together, but I’m not sure I’d say I “enjoyed” them. It’s a bit like the way I feel about movies occasionally–there are some films that I watch, and can say “That movie was beautiful, deep, and moving…but I don’t think I want to watch it again.” I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into them, the way the descriptions were so clear, the characters so deftly defined with just a few words. I’m glad I read it and would encourage anyone else who has an interest in literary fiction to buy it (or demand your library buy it) because it’s so worth reading.