Gifts Not Given
Author Kergan Edwards-Stout follows up his engrossing debut novel, "Songs for the New Depression," which examines thirty years in the life of an AIDS-stricken California man, with the equally profound, "Gifts Not Yet Given," a short story collection of compelling characters and circumstances ranging from the mundane to the maladjusted.
The events depicted in all fourteen stories occur on or around a specific day of celebration, including family gathering holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, such festive occasions as Halloween and Mardi Gras, Mother's and Father's Day, as well as the obligatory wedding and office party. With a holiday or special occasion as the backdrop for each entry, emotions run especially high throughout and the behavior of the represented individuals is contrary to the everyday.
One of the strongest and more uplifting stories, "Hearts," describes the unbreakable friendship between Karyn, an insecure teen, and her gay best friend, Kevin, who accompany each other to a high school Valentine's Day dance. The equally heartwarming "The Fourth Christmas" introduces Andrew and David, a couple celebrating their fourth anniversary despite the opposition of Andrew's conservative mother, Natalie.
Conservatism and religion appear prominently in several stories, including "The Old Rugged Cross," a heartbreaking, albeit somewhat affirming, tale of a mother, Cassandra, who begins to question her faith and purpose in life after her firefighter husband and son perish in the line of duty. Evelyn, the stubborn, bible-thumping protagonist in the grim "Mother's Day," believes having three estranged sons is just another example of God's will. Thom, Evelyn's youngest son, makes a surprising, conciliatory appearance in the sequel, "Father's Day."
My personal favorite, "Glenbourne, IL" tells the moving story of a cancer survivor revisiting his past during a Thanksgiving visit to his childhood home.
Although select stories are arguably too brief, all never fail to pack an emotional punch, and the collection, as a whole, is chock full of joyous albeit occasionally awkward instances and imagery (divorce, a sacred family recipe, an Easter bunny outfit) that are relatable, or at least familiar to everyone. With the holiday season approaching, "Gifts Not Yet Given" reminds readers, however flawed, to accept, appreciate and when warranted, forgive our families and friends.
"Gifts Not Yet Given"