In Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories, by Nancy Christie, the reader is introduced to an array of characters and plots that range from the incredibly lyrical to intensely morbid.
These 18 stories examine the human spirit at it’s most vulnerable; the stories are complex, varying, and thoroughly imaginative, introducing a fresh voice to fiction that is both ironic as well as gorgeously gloomy. Throughout, a pervasive sense of melancholy hangs upon each story, coloring them with language that is both lilting as well as arresting in its deep sadness.
In “Alice in Wonderland”, our protagonist is forced to care for her bitter and caustic mother. Torn between guilt, and a desire to escape her secluded life, Alice finds solace in eating the pages of books—literally ingesting the stories in an attempt to free herself from the dark confines of a life lived in servitude. “The Sugar Bowl” plays with the notion of story telling, and how powerful it can become when manipulated. A few stories later, we find “The Healer”, which tells the tale of a young girl who has inherited her mother and grandmother’s abilities. However, with her gift comes a great cost, which ultimately claims her life. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” serves as a reinforcement of one of the main themes throughout this collection: mental illness, examined from a unique perspective that gives the reader insight into the mind of the insane. In “Waiting for Sara”, our protagonist is a single mother who yearns for her daughter who has run away, and chosen to live a life fueled by drugs and alcohol. It is one of the most realistic stories, and serves as a grounding point, in an otherwise mildly “surreal” collection. My favorite story, “Annabelle”, is a lengthier story, about childhood trauma, the role of women, and art. Anna is forced to confront her troubled past by her therapist, Jules.
All of these stories have the gusto and literary verve to stand on their own. Their plots are well imagined, and regardless of the varying realism found throughout, believable. Christie gives the reader a cast of men, women, and children, all deeply imbedded into their lives, searching for something that is heart wrenching, and familiar.
Reviewed by MB Sellers
Publication date: 9/9/2014