In Thunderstruck, a bracing collection from Elizabeth McCracken (Niagara Falls All Over Again; The Giant's House), the links among the short stories are thematic. Refreshingly, the characters do not stroll from one story to the next and the settings are as dissimilar as Paris, France, and Des Moines, Iowa. The connecting notion--that love's great capacity for tenderness must bear the risk of pain--is depicted with both joy and ruthlessness across a variety of human situations. McCracken does not pull her punches when tussling with any emotion. Her happiest renderings encompass the deliciousness of life (a grandmother revels in "the childish flub of her granddaughter, the dense bakery heat of her limbs") and though the events that befall her characters are sometimes ruthless, she tempers the cruelty with humorous observations from a tasteful remove (" 'Je t'aime, Olivier,' said Clothilde, and Tony thought: Nothing sounds more insincere than a parrot speaking French").

The prose in Thunderstruck delivers both clarity and highly original turns of phrase. All nine of the stories are wise. Some are sustained conjurings of emotion; others, more plot-driven, twist near the end without feeling disingenuous. McCracken's characters range from librarians and professors to singers; of special note are the many credible and non-cutesy children. Their calamities and heartbreaks earn the reader more insight than gloom.

One character asserts: "Love is food.... Sometimes very good. Sometimes terrible." McCracken's stories show us how starved we would be without it. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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