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Composed of twelve stories connected by a recurring cast of characters, The Kissing List centers on young women–Frances, Deirdre, Maureen, Sylvie, and Laurie–whose lives intersect and overlap, first during a collegiate year abroad at Oxford, and then later as they all move to New York on the cusp of adulthood. Stephanie Reents’s characters encounter all the hallmarks of being young and female in the city–faltering attempts at failed relationships, uninspiring jobs, unplanned pregnancies, and the sense of being adrift as one struggles to make sense of one’s desires and to map out an identity–but she moves beyond trite stereotypes, employing sharp observation and evincing deep emotional resonance as she pushes her unsettled characters into extreme circumstances that defy standard “chick-lit” conventions. In the story “Animal Cruelty,” a young woman escapes to her family’s remote cabin to mull over her unplanned pregnancy. As the cabin becomes increasingly overrun with mice, her struggle to come to terms with her situation grows frenetic. The recurring character of Laurie is, in her late twenties, dying of brain cancer. In the hallucinatory “Disquisition of Tears,” a delusional and pain-wracked Laurie is visited by a headless woman. Laurie’s encroaching mortality anchors this collection of meditations on identity and alienation. The Kissing List rejects stereotypical representations of the glamour of being female and young in the city, in favor of a far bleaker outlook that questions the assumed foundations of contemporary life.
“Reents’s characters are as sharp as they are sly, as intellectually brilliant as they are oddball. These stories are often funny, but there’s a satisfying dark edge . . . Reents weaves the book’s stories together with humor, grief and slender prose.”–The New York Times Book Review
“Formally adept . . . Reents has created a collection that is emotionally vivid and stylistically interesting.”–Publishers Weekly