Ice Cream by Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore is a prolific and talented British writer, whose work I discovered several years ago when I picked up her novel With Your Crooked Heart in the bargain bin. She began her writing career as a poet but has written short stories and books for children as well. Her novel A Spell of Winter won the first-ever Orange Prize.

The fact that Dunmore is a poet is obvious in her collection of short stories, Ice Cream. Her use of language is spare and precise. But the thing that makes this collection of stories resonate is the subject matter: death, friendship, regret. And even more interestingly, I couldn’t name one story in this collection that has a tidy ending. So if you like a short story that wraps everything up in a neat bow- this volume will likely disappoint you.

I don’t know that many writers, though (Alice Munro excepted because she can write a short story about anything!) who could dedicate a few hundred words to the tale of a man driving at night who really, really wants a cigarette. Or tell the deeply affecting tale of a man watching his young wife die. Or the slightly creepy tale of a world where women have their babies through artificial means and what happens to one couple who chooses the natural route.

For the short time you spend with the characters in Dunmore’s stories, you are entranced, mystified and troubled. And even though we don’t always learn their ultimate fate, the stories are enough because of the writer telling their tale.

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