"The characters in Miriam Karmel's stories hold together the expanding, collective lives of extended family through a cherished and cared-for history of survival that is present and always heard, even when it is unspoken, incomplete, or hidden. Gently told in prose that is elegantly matter-of-fact and lovingly descriptive and detailed, Subtle Variations and Other Stories is a beautiful and moving read." Linda LeGarde Grover, Finalist judge and author of The Dance Boots
In these loosely linked stories, characters succumb to magical thinking in their obsessive longing to direct the future, the present, and even the past. In the title story, a husband tries to convince his wife of the subtle beauty in the many shades of green in their garden, when all she wants are flowers. In other stories, characters stubbornly attempt to cheat death. A woman makes jam to resurrect a daughter killed in Iraq. A man throws a party to keep his dying wife alive. A woman believes she can rescue the past by holding onto everyday objects like pots and pans. Though these stories are filled with loss and echoing grief, they hold equal measures of gratitude and pride, resilience and joy.
Miriam Karmel is the recipient of Minnesota Monthly's Tamarack Award for her short story "The Queen of Love." She has received numerous other awards for her stories, including the Moment Magazine/Karma Foundation Short Fiction Prize. Her novel Being Esther was published by Milkweed Editions in 2013.
The Queen of Love
Pocket Full of Posies
Summer is for People
Caves of Lascaux
"The characters in Miriam Karmel’s collection of linked stories hold the expanding collective lives of extended family together through a cherished and cared-for history of survival that is present and always heard even when it is unspoken, incomplete, or hidden. There is loss and an echoing grief in these stories as well as gratitude and pride; resilience and a joy in existence are tempered by a sense of obligation that can be both comforting and burdensome. Laced throughout contemporary passages of marriage, divorce, worries about young adult children and the fading of elderly parents are an awareness of losses of the past and a middle
generation’s connective role to the future. Gently told in prose that is elegantly matter-of-fact while it is lovingly descriptive and detailed, Subtle Variations and Other Stories is a beautiful and moving read."--Linda LeGarde Grover
"In Miriam Karmel’s household tales, where flowers decorate tables and cooking, baking, sewing and humor play their part, the author seeks the universal in the particulars of daily life."--The Minneapolis Tribune
"Miriam Karmel, author of the novel Being Esther, won the inaugural First Fiction prize from Duluth-based Holy Cow! Press for this collection. Her topics range from a husband trying to convince his wife of the beauty of shades of green in their garden when she wants flowers, to a woman who makes jam to resurrect a daughter killed in Iraq, and a man who throws a party to keep his dying wife alive."--Mary Ann Grossmann,The Saint Paul Pioneer Press
"Miriam Karmel's stories took my breath away with their heartbreaking beauty and the depth of their humanity. The women (and oy! the men) who live in these pages had me reaching for the tissue box , then laughing aloud and ultimately poking my partner in the ribs, demanding, 'Listen to this.' Reader, read this book. You will fall in love. Guaranteed."--Faith Sullivan, author of The Cape Ann and Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse
"Crisp snapshots of men and women conducting everyday lives, skirting the aches of both love and loss. With a nod to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Karmel's (Being Esther, 2013) short story collection opens with a woman planning, evolves through a series of meditations on the past, and ends with a party. The families of many of Karmel's characters have been brutalized by the Holocaust, and their lives are fraught with ghosts and trauma; her stories often abruptly break at the end, the emotional terrain too difficult to traverse. The narratives echo with memories of pots and pans confiscated by the Nazis, wedding photographs burned in concentration camps, flight from the ambiguous boundary between Poland and Russia, and a violence that reverberates from suburban parks to Iraq. Instead of planning an evening soiree like Clarissa Dalloway, Sophie is planning a visit to her grandmother's grave, remembering her Nonna's love of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, her refusal to accept the Arnaz divorce, her talented matchmaking, and her insistence on thoughtfully selected bouquets. In one of the more heartbreaking tales, Lydia cannot pass through her grief over her daughter's death, creating a shrine made of jars of marmalade through which the sunlight conjures her presence —yet to Lydia's husband, Lyle, the marmalade symbolizes the past's malevolent pull on their marriage. In the end, William Hill throws the closing party for his wife, Nora, who is quickly succumbing to breast cancer despite his hopes for one final moment of grace before his identity shifts from husband to widower. Blue silks and satins, sprigs of bougainvillea, mikvahs performed in the still water of a backyard swimming pool—these and other leitmotifs thread through several of the stories, tethering the characters to each other and creating a mournful harmony. Beautifully wistful, quiet portraits of grief. "--Kirkus Reviews