Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle was both the hardest and easiest thing I’ve read in weeks.
A collection of short stories, they are mainly about different ways love ends. With her vivid imagery, dramatic sense of pace, and true-to-life characters, there was more than once that I felt McCorkle was pulling my heart out through my stomach, but the warmth in her voice was a comfort throughout. Each time I could hear it telling me everything would be okay. And she did not disappoint: though the stories did not have traditional happy endings, they did end with hope.
My personal favorite, “Midnight Clear,” is the story of a single mom’s first Christmas after her divorce. In the midst of disaster, she meets Mr. Morris Settle, who’s been there and found love after it. He leaves both the narrator and reader with a new sense that everything will be all right.
It was that feeling that kept me reading. Through the little boy who refuses to accept that his dad was never happy with his mom despite growing into a man who makes the same mistakes; through the woman writing a letter to a marriage counselor after he failed to save her marriage so she can tell him she no longer looks like “shit on a stick;” through the intervention and the trip to the moon…even through “Magic Words,” which scared me so badly and broke my heart so thoroughly that I had to tuck myself into a corner to finish it. No matter how dark it gets, McCorkle always leaves a light shining somewhere.
The way she weaves that light into her prose is part of the undefinable magic, but I think I’ve figured out part of it.
You can find every kind of love in this book: romantic, coming and going, sibling, the daughter caring for her aging mother, the mother caring for one who is not her own, and so on. But in each comes a moment when the main character learns to love herself. Sometimes it takes the form of leaving a bad situation, sometimes it is in the staying, in finding the strength to move forward. It’s not all freedom and it’s not all “settling down.” It’s learning to love themselves and their moment, whatever it might look like.
It makes for entertaining stories, even uplifting ones despite their bleak beginnings. They’re about love and loss and loving through the loss. We’ve all been there, and these stories are encouraging and uplifting to all of us.