The cover of a book can make the difference between picking it up or passing it by. Engaging and evocative, the cover of Minus One, designed by Jeremy John Parker with an image by Leah Dyjak, tells us something important. While a tangerine float, perhaps lost from the edge of a net, is beached on dark sand along still waters, the rim of dawn on the horizon turns that same color into bright hope under cloudy skies. That is the feeling of Doris Iarovici’s stories.
Each of the ten pieces in this collection is shaped by a loss, someone or something that has been part of keeping things afloat is now gone, or a change comes without choice. There is no Pollyanna here and pain slices through these carefully crafted short stories. Details resonate and take us deeper. Everything doesn’t turn out as we’d hope. Instead, Iarovici persistently saves us with her understanding of the growth and liberation that are entwined with loss, and with a sense of resilience as reliable as the sunrise.
A 12-year-old city boy suffering from stepmother-hate in “Bicth” (not a typo), Casey is not miraculously transformed by a walk through the rainy woods with a woman who loves mushrooms and is trying to love him. Loyalty to his mother won’t allow it. In fact, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, that loyalty won’t allow him to acknowledge the difficult truths in front of him. His dangerous, last-ditch effort to remain a child, to try magical thinking one more time, might not seem a hopeful ending to this well-drawn look at modern family challenges. Yet Iarovici leaves the reader feeling the transformation of adolescence that is just beginning for Casey. The many possible outcomes of his actions are unresolved, but there’s a dawning about to happen.
The protagonist in “Afterlife” is the nameless “I” that can be hard to write but helps us to identify with a character. The author manages this voice with skill and sensitivity. The narrator has been widowed for two years and has made the mistake of losing her Self along with her husband. To move beyond the paralysis of grief, she has a weekend liaison with a man who, in the face of his own tragedy, says, “Totally exploded the old me—it was the only way.” Like the devil on her shoulder, he argues for carpe diem and demonstrates its slippery slope. The result might have been a further distancing from her true passion, her authentic gift. But Iarovici, with strength and empathy, creates the light that saves her. “Because that’s really me, I want to say…and all at once it doesn’t matter that there’s no one there to hear me say it as the sun inches its way into the day.”
The author’s day job as a psychiatrist shows in this group of stories, not in any negative way, but rather in her wisdom about human nature and her recognition of the metaphors in our actions. This is intelligent and compelling writing. I think you will, as I did, come away from Minus One with a sense of recognition, comforted and also challenged to greater compassion.