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CAS Alum’s Women in Bed: Evocative Stories of Love, Loneliness, Loss

Jessica Keener reads from new book tomorrow in Brookline


College of Arts & Sciences alum Jessica Keener, a magazine and features writer for national publications, among them the Boston Globe magazine, will be at Brookline Booksmith tomorrow to read from her new, quietly moving short story collection.

Keener’s Women in Bed (Story Plant, 2013), comes on the heels of her critically acclaimed first novel, Night Swim. The nine deftly drawn stories, reminiscent of those of some of the masters of the short story genre, from Katherine Mansfield to Raymond Carver, are pervaded by matters of love, loneliness, and loss, honing in on women in various phases of life as they struggle to be honest with others and with themselves.

Keener (CAS’79) explores a succession of relationships—friends, lovers, spouses, siblings, student and professor. The characters approach, recede from, and dance around each other, but, as in life, there is no tidy resolution beyond an increment of self-awareness. In its descriptions of dodged hope and alienation, Keener’s prose is spare but pitch-perfect. Of a misguided coupling in “Shoreline,” she writes, “We pushed and pulled but we never found the insides.” Or this, from “Boarders,” “The bus surged forward and she felt her spine burning without love.”

Jessica Keener (CAS'79), who received critical acclaim for her first novel Night Swim, will read from her new story collection Women in Bed at Brookline Booksmith Oct. 1 at 7 pm.

Keener also employs a nuanced irony. In “Bird of Grief,” an emotionally wounded film student describes how her boyfriend of two years declared that he felt “claustrophobic. With five states separating us, a fourteen-hour bus ride, twelve hours in my car if I drove from Rhode Island to North Carolina on the highway late at night, the time apart didn’t add up, he said.” When she asks him what he means, he simply says, over the phone, “People change.”

As the collection’s title indicates, Keener’s characters spend a lot of time in beds, but much of it is dreaming or taking refuge. In “Woman with Birds in her Chest,” Cynthia abruptly quits her job caring for the elderly and stays in bed for weeks, reading magazines. Keener is generous in her physical description of beds, some of which are inspired. “Think about it,” says the narrator of “Heart,” flopped on the bed of her Miami apartment in a converted garage as she speaks with the lover she is about to meet in Paris. “This very second my bed is supported by a concrete floor, and underneath me is a meter of pure sand and underneath that a millennium-old layer of coral rock. Eons ago my bed would have been under water.”

Keener’s tales are gently plotted with dialogue that is only the mist hovering above a turbulent emotional sea. BU alumni, and current students, are likely to experience a touch of nostalgia reading the stories set in and around Boston, with characters navigating the streets of Allston, Coolidge Corner, and Kenmore Square.

Jessica Keener will read from Women in Bed at 7 p.m., tomorrow, Tuesday, October 1, at Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., Coolidge Corner, Brookline. By public transportation take the MBTA C Line to Coolidge Corner.

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