A typical weeknight in the midst of winter is, by no means, epochal. Gloomy weather threatens a once-pristine blue sky, academic stress accelerates and the new year’s beginning initiates sullen feelings of retrospection. Yet, embedded within the mundanity of these afternoons are raw, unfiltered moments that represent the beauty of humanity.
“Five Tuesdays in Winter, ” Lily King’s debut short story collection, intertwines monotony with the profound through 10 slice-of-life narratives that intricately capture themes of love, loss and addiction. King, perhaps best known for her award-winning novels “Euphoria” and “Writers & Lovers,” couples gorgeous, provocative prose with complex characters that could easily star in their own individual stories. Though certain narratives are, inevitably, much stronger than others, together the 10 tales in “Five Tuesdays in Winter” craft compelling representations of different forms of love, detailing the extent that one will go to submit to their desires.
“Five Tuesdays in Winter” initially struggles to gain its footing; the collection’s first two stories, “Creature” and “Five Tuesdays in Winter,” are easily some of the weakest in the collection due to their minimal character development. However, that is not to say that either story is dismal by any means, as they successfully set up several complex themes that infiltrate the entirety of the collection.
Both of these narratives center on individuals experiencing the consequences of love and utilizing art as a means to counteract internal qualms. The collection’s titular story particularly highlights King’s interest in literature and the people who devote their lives to their craft. Mitchell, a rather grouchy bookseller, finds himself falling for Kate, an employee at his shop who tutors his young daughter every Tuesday amid winter. Mitchell’s feelings for Kate mimic that of his love for literature, as he consistently notes that his admiration of her can only be equated to the love that he has read about in novels.
Though the characters in this specific story are not as compelling as those in King’s other works, this narrative excels in encapsulating the purpose behind the collection in its entirety. In demonstrating the exhilaration attached to a wintry midday, King points to the ways in which mundane moments possess profound poignancy.
The collection’s third story, “When in the Dordogne,” showcases this idea through its romanticization of the past. In summer 1986, a young boy is cared for by two teenagers, Grant and Ed, while his parents travel to the Dordogne. Looking back on his memories with the two boys that summer, the speaker finds beauty in simple observations: “It was a warm, humid night and the hot pie and the cold ice cream were perfect together.”
The narrator recollects his memories from that summer, piecing together moments as if crafting a scrapbook filled with nostalgia and hope. Through the narrator’s reminiscence of quaint moments from a summer in his childhood, King points to the ways in which everyday events can prove to be the most beautiful and may shape the lives of individuals perhaps even more than extravagant moments.
This focus on the mundane weaves through King’s skillful construction of romantic and platonic relationships in her work. Yet, King’s demonstration of the profound within one’s everyday life is most vividly represented in her descriptions of familial relationships. This is primarily exemplified in “South,” a story that couples King’s rich, descriptive prose with a simple setting to examine the challenges of parenthood.
“South” follows Marie-Claude, a mother who embarks on a road trip with her two children. Though this story takes place entirely within a car, King manages to expose the intricate inner workings of a broken family through Marie-Claude’s interactions with her children. King masterfully crafts scenes that, at face value, may seem trite; yet, in her deep exploration of each character’s psyche, she brilliantly unearths emotions that expose the poignant journey of a family in tatters.
“Five Tuesdays in Winter” is at its best when it balances simple plotlines with captivating prose, identifying the ways love binds individuals together. And, in examining the ways in which the mundane reveals the complexity of the human experience, King compels readers to relish in their own everyday routine, find beauty in the simple moments and embrace whatever may happen on a seemingly ordinary Tuesday in winter.