Book Review by Raymond M. Wong
Thomas, Abigail. Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Print.
Abigail Thomas’s Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life, is a collection of short vignettes, some as brief as a paragraph, but they hit with the power of an avalanche. These are stories of family, snapshots from a picture album of moments in time, caught in a camera’s lens at just the right instant, at the precise angle necessary to convey the raw feelings of loss, pain, emptiness, grief, and wonder.
In an online discussion group at Antioch University Los Angeles in the MFA in Creative Writing program, we discussed some short stories by Anton Chekhov. We admired so many things about Chekhov, but one of the things that stood out was his ability to trust the reader. He didn’t feel compelled to over-explain, over-write, and over-analyze. He put his characters in motion, in a natural setting, and allowed them to be, and in the space of their existence, they took the reader on a journey, a story without pretense and heavy-handedness, but meticulously and artfully crafted, words skillfully chosen and sharpened to a razor’s edge, to cut just so.
Abigail Thomas is such a writer. Her prose is pin-point accurate without a wasted syllable: “After we got divorced he went out with a former nun for a while. ‘Such appetites!’ he said in wonder. ‘Why tell me?’ I asked and hung up the phone.” The passage is 30 words and makes up the entire vignette, yet in these few sentences, Thomas manages to depict the bitter nature of the relationship after a divorce, the ex-husband bragging about his sexual prowess and newfound freedom, and the ex-wife who wants no part of his illicit boasts.
I’m an admirer of writers who can get to the heart of emotional truths in spare, precise language, and Thomas shows again and again, her keen eye for observation and the exacting detail that captures the essence of her subject’s feelings in a given moment. This rare gift makes makes Abigail Thomas a writer worth savoring.