We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories

We Show What We Have Learned is a debut story collection that introduces readers to the brilliant mind of Clare Beams. It has the hair-raising electricity similar to that of a new generation of writers that includes Karen Russell, Diane Cook, David James Poissant and Kelly Link, yet reads with the stateliness of a bygone era.

Beams's stories range from wicked to wistful, and feature characters--often women--at some transitional stage. In "Hourglass," a girl is sent to a boarding school that teaches young women to achieve physical perfection. "All the Keys to All the Doors" imagines a widowed benefactor of a small town, whose buildings erase dirt--and people. In the title story, a fragile schoolteacher falls apart at her students' jeering, literally. "World's End," the collection's most straightforward piece of realism, follows a young architect whose ego swells as he imagines a relationship--and a place--that will never be.

These may sound like punch lines, but Beams plumbs her material for mystery and depth. Her writing is relaxed but authoritative, letting scenes unfold without authorial intrusion. Beams's style could almost be called old-fashioned, matching her frequently historic settings. Her topics and scenarios are strange and surreal, yet the writing is oddly comforting. Perhaps that's why Joyce Carol Oates compares her with Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson. Like Jackson, Beams's stories are eerie and precise. Like Munro, each one hinges on a subtle truth, each uncovering some mystery of humanity, each story a revelation. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

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