Review of What Shines From It (Sara Rauch)

What Shines From It is the type of book where what you recall most strongly following its conclusion is the way it made you feel. The way it isolated you from your surroundings, encapsulating you in a quiet of its own making. Like the saying about getting down in the well with someone who is suffering, these stories require getting down in the well with their characters.

Rauch writes taut fiction. The prose is poised and revelatory for the calm it brings in reading, even as we are brought into the inner circles of these characters’ physical and psychic suffering.

Everything is subtle. Yet in the stripped-down set-dressing, the lack of quotation marks, and the straightforward delivery Rauch creates an enormity of space to explore sexualities, relationships, identity, and longing. More or less the core of what makes us human.

Every character stands distinct and every scene is constructed with meaning in each line that to quote them feels inane. No sentence could survive out of context, which is not to say Rauch doesn’t write brilliant sentences. She does. But she more so writes brilliant pieces of fiction, whose every phrase and passage stands atop what preceded. They need to be experienced in full.

The Limitations in Saying This is Like Poetry

While this book could easily be described as poetic (the back cover makes no bones about it and does), I find that misleading, even cheap. It is no use hearkening another form to praise what Rauch has done and it feels odd to stake the goodness of anyone’s fiction in how much the prose resembles poetry.

Poetry and fiction are meant to be separate. Rauch understands this because what she has given us is nothing like poetry. Poetry cannot accomplish the relational arcs, the precariousness of human disorientation across the length of trying to love someone well and to receive love well in quite the same way she accomplishes here.

This is first-class fiction. Remarkable even. The one thing I will quote actually comes from the epigraph, penned by Anne Carson, which inspired the collection’s title. It opens with, “A wound gives off its own light.” Each story is a painting of a wound, some on the cusp of healing. Others show the process of being wounded or the immediate aftermath of a wound. All of them, without exception, are bursting with light.

Conclusion

Unforgettable and exceptional, What Shines From It contains eleven stories. From “Beholden”, a girl-meets-boy story set post-9/11 where ghosts haunt the pavement to “Abandon”, where a miscarriage derails a woman’s stretch toward future love, each is perfect.

The through-line of it all is a constant reminder of why we turn to fiction, perhaps especially in days of isolation and crisis. That we might be reminded of the universals: love, pain, joy, suffering. And above all, that we might be reminded that whatever difficulty we face, none of us is in this alone.


What Shines From It is published by Alternating Current Press.

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