Anxiety in the Wilderness: Short Stories by Kathleen Patrick

Anxiety in the Wilderness: Short Stories
by Kathleen Patrick

I’ll start with context, not about the book, but about how I came to review it. I don’t typically read independently published novels and books for a variety of reasons. But I decided to join a Facebook group, one which has an active review program organized by the administrators. On a whim and by chance, I joined in.

The process began with contacting the organizing administrator. Every reviewer wrote a short biography of themselves as readers.

Hello! My name is JoAnn. I'm located in the USA. I'm an academic in the humanities and a huge reader (it's part of the work I love to do!) I actively review books and galleys, both professionally and for my own pleasure. I review Non-Fiction and Fiction. I prefer physical print copies. For NF I read history and historical archaeology. In fiction, my preferred genres are: Historical Literary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Multicultural/OwnVoices, multigenerational fiction. I especially enjoy Asian-American, Immigration, BIPOC stories/themes. I do not gravitate toward romance, thrillers, horror, or contemporary fiction as much, but on occasional will read slipstream and mysteries."
Then I waited…

Each participating author scrolled through the post to find a reader they thought would match their novel or manuscript and commented below their name. [While some reviewers had several interested authors, I did not. In fact, Patrick had not selected me as a reader for her collection, but I saw her book offered to another reviewer and I asked the organizer if I could review it.] Reviewers could then choose three authors or books they wanted to review. The organizing administrator then connected the authors to the reviewers via direct messaging.

Anxiety in the Wilderness: Short Stories was one of the books I had the privilege to review. I am glad I got the chance to do so; Patrick’s collection of stories is well-worth the read and the price (at present USD $9.99 for the paperback, $0.99 for Kindle ebook, $15.99 for the hardback edition). [Indeed, Patrick’s collection of tales causes me to consider reading more independently published fiction.] The collection, at a total of 161 pages, comprises of seventeen stories and two poems, a few of which have been published in journals elsewhere.

The stories collected in this volume cohere under the theme suggested in its title. These are vignettes clipped from a variation of lives. Each story captures a personal moment of anxiety, ranging from the life-changing to the merely inconvenient. In these tales individuals lose some part of themselves or worry about the possibility of doing so: In Fire, a woman assesses what part of her life is measured in the material goods she owns; in Anxiety in the Wilderness what it means to watch someone lose their life forces a woman to review her value to her spouse. In other stories mothers look upon their children and weigh their love for them against their love for their husbands, wives question the strength of their husband’s love, children face the loss of a parent. Patrick’s stories reflect the small and large gravities in our lives like a mirror.

Like a reflection in a mirror, Patrick’s prose possesses clarity and crispness; in its simple lines there is an element of accuracy in her portrayals of human worry. This lends a literary quality to the collection as a whole. Patrick’s words are deliberately sparse, and in this, she allows the reader a rare privilege: To imagine themselves in the precarious positions the characters are in. It is this small inflection permitted to the reader which I find most appealing about Patrick’s work; she holds back from telling the reader what to feel and so the reader’s own fears organically merge with those of the characters in her tales. The effect is a profound empathy on the part of the reader for the individuals in these tales. Some of the stories left me with an intense poignancy, which I do not regret; this depth of feeling is a testament to the stories and Patrick’s skill as an author. The reader is left feeling “seen” and the result is one of both discomfort (from the anxiety around which the story revolves) and assurance that we are not alone in our worries. Like many of the tales here, there is a bittersweet end for the reader.

Patrick states these stories were written over many years; perhaps drawing from different periods and experiences in her own life. There is a breadth of experience in these stories, expressed in both the varied ages and genders of the characters Patrick produces, and in the range of events and concerns around which the stories revolve. Some stories focus on youthful worries: love, romance, ambition, belonging. Others hone in on more mature causes of unease: death, aging, marriage, adultery, loneliness. I appreciate this variation deeply; I think most readers will find at least a few stories that move them. This is a collection for adult readers across the age spectrum.

On a more personal level, I enjoyed “Letters Home”, “The Dancer”, and “Storm” most, though all of the stories had each their own attractions. There was not one story which I wanted to skip, nor one I disliked, none I found out of place, or which evoked less than a thoughtful pause at its end.

If you’re interested in purchasing Anxiety in the Wilderness, you can do so from Amazon. You’ll find it here.

1 thought on “Anxiety in the Wilderness: Short Stories by Kathleen Patrick”

  1. […] Some context as to how I came across this book. As I have mentioned before in another review, I do not usually gravitate toward independently published novels. But as with that previous review, I happened across the opportunity to do so via a FB group I am in which pairs up authors with reviewers. See here for the details of the May 2023 Book Review. […]

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