People Like Us and Better Than My Own Life by Laura Weddle
Review by Julie Carpenter
These books by Laura Weddle contain collections of intimate and insightful short stories populated by characters who have called Kentucky home. The heart of People Like Us is the Adkins family, a family of tenant farmers who live on a tobacco farm. The stories follow the lives of two sisters, Lilly and Wilma and their parents, taking detours into the minds and hearts of various people in the community. Each story is a gem in its own right, but each one also opens a doorway into the collective world of the town. Better Than My Own Life continues the stories of Lilly and Wilma. It also returns to Kentucky to consider the fortunes of some of its other citizens, lucky and unlucky, good and bad.
The stories are beautifully crafted, drawing the reader confidently into the world of rural Kentucky and even more remarkably allowing the reader to experience the larger world from a local viewpoint. From the cadence of the language to the smell of biscuits and sausage, you enter the world of Kentucky from the first page of People Like Us and remain there to the last page of Better Than My Own Life. Like a John Prine song, each story's plain telling belies its depth.
One of the beauties of the books is that no character is left unloved or unjudged. Each collection takes a firm and unwavering look at each and every character that wanders through its pages, recounting without flinching their choices, virtues and sins. But at the same time there is no character that is not understood. There is no one with whom the reader cannot sympathize. And by the end of each book, we not only see the characters for who they are, we see how their lives shape the lives of their families and neighbors. Each character has a unique voice. Each story is a thread in a tapestry that ties together the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, good and bad. Both books - especially People Like Us - could easily have been infected with nostalgia, but they deal with the contemporaneous issues of racism, sexism, and classism head on.
These stories are a study in empathy. They will break your heart and mend it again. I have already found myself re-reading a few of them, finding something new each time, like a visit with an old friend. So sit down a spell with the characters in these short stories. You’ll be glad you did.
Laura Weddle and her husband, Leo, live in Somerset, Kentucky. Since her retirement as a Professor of Humanities from the University of Kentucky Community College System, Laura has published many stories in national and regional literary magazines.
Links to purchase:
Better Than My Own Life
People Like Us