My grandmother attended All Saints Church. Although I was not a devout child, I have many happy memories surrounding that small brick building: bazaars and bake sales, pancake suppers and holiday lunches.
None of my happy memories reside in the pews or at the altar, however; they are attached to the basement or the kitchen, the foyer or the parking lot.
And, similiarly, the characters in K.D. Miller's All Saints are sketched in laundry rooms and city parks, in armchairs and rehab, more often in ordinary places than in the church proper.
What unites the characters is their membership in All Saints, but otherwise the connections betweem them range from loose to non-existent (with some notable exceptions) and their connections to the church itself are of varying intensities.
Some, however, are integrally connected to the institution, as leaders (of/within the congregation), whereas others are occasional attendees.
"Yes, he would have his own parish. Finally. But it would be creaky old All Saints which was tiny and getting tinier by the Sunday. He doubted the bishop actually thought he was going to revive the place with his innovative ideas and commanding presence. More likely, it was a relatively painless way of getting rid of them both. Five or so years of ministering to a dwindling congregation would serve to end his career. And his retirement would make it easy for the diocese to turn a cool eye on All Saints, with its empty pews and emptier collection plates." (Still Dark)
The tone shifts. Sometimes characters express themselves in brusque snippets.
"Silence. Oh, right. You know how it’s going to be now, once you do go up. She’ll put your lunch down in front of you without a word, then sit across the table from you not eating. Not talking. For once. And you’ll try. Try a little joke. Call her one of the old names. Say, How about supper down at the Legion tonight? Save cooking? No dishes? Still nothing. So finally you’ll say, All right, what is it then? And she’ll be all tears, blubbering on about the jar of pickles or whatever the hell it was that you wouldn’t bring up. Except it’s not the jar of pickles. It’s never the bloody jar of pickles." (Barney)
Other times, characters make phrase-soaked observations.
"And remember the way the venetian blinds sliced the afternoon sun into bright stripes along the living-room floor? And the way the handles of their two umbrellas, in that white ceramic stand by the door, used to lean away from each other to form a heart?" (What They Have)
Sometimes the prose is lyrical, poetic.
"The sight of her fellow rehab patients—pale as skinned potatoes, slack on one side like marionettes with half their strings cut. Does she look like that? She has to get out of here. She has to get home." (Return)
Other times, it is perfunctory, simply serviceable.
"But since we have been writing to each other, since these letters—sent and received—have begun to punctuate my week, I have become so much more aware of what is around me. I pay attention to the taste of my food, to the different tones of my minders’ voices. I notice now if a wall needs repainting. I can’t say I exactly care, nor would I ever point it out to someone in authority. Nevertheless, I notice." (October Song)
In every case, however, there is a sense of careful and deliberate construction; the words are draped across the narrative as delicately as a garment over the back of a chair.
"Drapes the sweater over the back and arranges it so the button at the neckline is centred. That’s important. It gives the garment a presence, a sense of awareness. And there is something sweetly composed about the curves of the fabric joining at the button." (Still Dark)
These stories are exceptional. The tone of the collection balances the need for variety in style with the need for consistency which builds trust with the reader, between and within stories. And the drama is drawn from the everyday, as remarkable -- and memorable -- as that may be.
"We all survived. I guess that’s what’s so remarkable—the sheer normalcy of the lives we ended up living." (Heroes)
Contents: Barney; Still Life; What They Have; Magnificat; Ecce Cor Meum; Kim’s Game; Return; October Song; Spare Change; Heroes
This review originally appeared on BuriedInPrint.