In short stories set between 2014 and 2030, Resolutions: A Family in Stories accomplishes its purpose, the resolution of the mysteries of a troubled family. It sounds simple, but looking at definitions, it’s clear that there are many forms of resolution. Think of magnifying small pieces, clarifying complexities, solving problems, determination, and bringing to a conclusion. Any and all of those apply to the book that author Jen Knox has created. And taken together, despite pain and loss, the individual expressions of enduring love in these stories create a satisfying and healing whole.
Many of us think of resolutions as goals for the New Year. But in this family, which has already lost a husband and father, there are only glimpses of the good times before. Now a widowed and impatient mother of four, Jasmine works hard at selling beauty products to support them all. Resolutions have become a regular survival tool. Handing out index cards and Sharpie pens, she demands her children set goals.
“Allie calls Mom a Resolution Nazi. Mom likes to say that we’re a goal-driven family on an upward trajectory. ‘We’re go-getters, and go-getters make SMART goals,’ she says, looking over our shoulders like the worst kind of teacher.”
Jasmine struggles and loses ground, her frustration compounded by growing mental illness. Her neglect and eventual abandonment of her children is at the heart of this book, yet the author carefully holds the weight of that sorrow, so that we can stick with it and discover how such a thing can be borne, understood, even overcome.
Allie, the oldest girl, has run away, leaving Molly May, not yet 14, stuck in the role of substitute parent to her younger brothers, Myron and Joey. Jasmine is heartbroken at the rift with Allie, and fights often and loudly with Rattle, an ex-con who has moved in, crowding the small house.
Molly May tells most of these stories. She suffers hearing loss, gets a job at a packing plant, loses her mother, regains her sister, and takes care of her aging grandmother. Together, the sisters get the younger boys through school, and the four kids create a small business that sustains them for years. But there are deep wounds to overcome. Well-written and engaging, the twists and turns, the dialogue, and the working class settings feel like modern America.
This is pre-pandemic, pre-racial-protest America, but the context doesn’t ignore the political. Knox uses the two sisters to acknowledge 2020’s divisions. Allie is an activist early, and has a strong sense of injustice. It costs her, but she gradually learns how to channel that righteous anger. Molly May claims, “I never think too much about political news and world affairs. I just take for granted that we won’t blow up, or that if we do, it’ll happen before I can hear it.” Even in 2020, she admits to “ignoring the political ads.” Yet her always-political sister has the author’s last word on the subject.
“There’s no such thing as The Free,” Allie tells the reporter. “We spend our lives fighting to get as close as we can to freedom, but we’re all constrained by the biases of our parents, our predecessors. … We need to listen to each other to make better decisions; then maybe we won’t limit the next generation.” The children, by now, have grown up to make their own resolutions.
But politics is certainly not the focus of these stories—the true resolution is children overcoming trauma and growing up to thrive. In the end, Jasmine comforts herself and her kids by noting that they had “moments.” Resolutions takes those moments and gradually resolves them into something healing, a saga of individual and family survival. Life doesn’t always offer the solutions of literature, but in these stories Jen Knox does suggest hope, and gives us memorable, hard-working, and courageous models to follow.