States of Motion

University of Michigan creative writing teacher Laura Hulthen Thomas's debut short story collection, States of Motion, is set in southeastern Michigan in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession. These eight stories offer a portrait gallery of lives touched by some of the forces that triggered a political earthquake in the United States.

While Thomas's characters have risen from the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, in most cases something--job loss, divorce or another personal crisis--has stalled their ascent. Emblematic of that stagnation are the protagonists of "Adult Crowding" and "An Uneven Recovery." In the first, Jerrell, a construction manager turned driving instructor by the economic downturn, struggles with the burden of a mother in the latter stages of dementia. In the other, after her husband's architectural clients disappear and she loses her job as a bookkeeper for a real estate developer, Gina Arnold agrees to tend to her next-door neighbors' two elderly cats while their owners leave on vacation.

In an impressive demonstration of technique, Thomas seamlessly links "The Warding Charm" and "Lab Will Care," the stories that bookend the collection. The opener, somewhat opaque in isolation, alludes to childhood sexual abuse in the life of its protagonist, Emily. It's not until the final story that the depth of that violation is made clear when she faces her abuser.

There's nothing flashy or startling about Laura Hulthen Thomas's short fiction, but her sturdily constructed stories will appeal to a wide group of thoughtful readers. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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