Rebecca Brown. Photo by Mary Randlett.
The characters in Rebecca Brown’s eloquent short story collection What Keeps Me Here(Harper Collins) are predominantly women—women who are strong, who love each other, who make art, and who wait in silent rooms for their lives to change. They are nameless, as are many of their conflicts, which gives them an ephemeral quality. Like spirits we reach for them, but elusively they slip from our grasp. Brown offers only enough to sustain, to keep us listening, but doesn’t overfill our plates with the unnecessary. Her stories are reminiscent of Hemingway’s in their beautiful rhythms and repetitions and seemingly simple sentences. And like stories from the Bible, they can be read and reread, with endless interpretations on which readers can pin their own projections. In “Faith” a girl sits in a room with a number in the palm of her hand, waiting for what is never made clear. Is she a call girl waiting for her john? Or is she hoping God will finally call out to her, claim her, and make her whole? This abstract quality in Brown’s stories creates a strong and deep undercurrent, reverberating with the tensions of shifting feelings. In “The Aqua Series” an artist strips the paint from her canvases, reducing them to their barest form, searching to “find what she’d been looking for,” something clean and spare and strong, like Brown’s stories themselves, until there is “nothing left to take away.”