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Wendy Rawlings

Wendy Rawlings is the author of Come Back Irish, winner of the 2000 Sandstone Prize for Short Fiction, and The Agnostics, winner of the Michigan Literary Fiction Award. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, The Kenyon Review, the Cincinnati Review, Tin House, Creative Nonfiction and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. She teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama.


"Wendy Rawlings' Time for Bed is snappy, hilarious, bracing reading. She's a master storyteller who's thought long and hard about the possibilities of the form. This is a long-overdue collection from one of my favorite writers."

– Jess Row

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Time for Bed

"Catch it and Punt"


Here’s what I like best about Wendy Rawlings’ latest short story collection, Time for Bed: the way she doubles down on her characters. What I mean by this is Rawlings doesn’t simply provide a character with some odd ornamentation, some tangible something for the reader to attach to; her character’s tics quite literally become the story. Take the story “Tics” as an example. Glen, the seventeen-year-old, too-young-for-the-narrator, boy-with-Tourette’s makes clicking and hitching sounds in his throat but says, “I think it drives everyone crazy but me. I don’t notice.” After awhile, I don’t notice either, and this is what amazes me about the story. It’s not until I read the last, Great Gatsby-ish line — “We walk. We walk. We keep walking, until everything catches up with us.”— that I realize, while I was reading, there had been a ticking in my brain like a clock counting down the time, like I knew the two characters’ time together was coming to an end, and I was running uncontrollably forward alongside the narrator. Rawlings manages to create authentic characters in her stories whose actions, thoughts and, perhaps most importantly, appearances give consequence to the story they live within.

These stories also confront difficult, tragic and often verboten territory. “Love in Wartime,” one of my favorites, takes on 9-11. “Coffins for Kids!” describes a mother’s journey through grief after a school shooting takes her child from her. In “Portrait of My Mother’s Head on a Plate,” the narrator is openly embarrassed by her mother’s coming out and relationship with the school lunch lady. Combining character-driven narrations with punch-in-the-gut incidents, in an often tell-it-like-it-is tone, Rawlings beautifully illustrates individuals’ struggles for permanence and stability in our current world.

Other themes that run through Rawlings book include character’s sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic relationship to weight (the too-fat lady who swaps bodies with a Nigerian ex-runner, the anorexic sister, Joan, who literally fades away to nothing), as well as mothers who leave their husbands for other mothers, and Irishmen with communication issues that give way to deeper issues. While these themes run throughout Rawlings’ book, making for a cohesive read, each story is distinctive in it’s own way. In “Portrait of My Mother’s Head on a Plate,” the bourgie teenage sisters make lists that quicken the reading pace and brighten the subject matter, in “Omaha,” the Irishman prepares himself for University dinners so, “no matter what he was hit with, he could catch it and punt,” perfectly subtle phrases that capture character. In these ways, Rawlings’ slips social and cultural personifications seamlessly into stories that are an absolute treat to read.

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