People Like You by Margaret Malone

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It’s a slim paperback volume, this first book by the young Portland writer Margaret Malone. It’s smooth to the touch, with a clean graphic cover – deceptively simple.

From the first, the title made me curious. “People Like You.”  Really?  People like me?  How can a collection of nine short stories promise to be like any reader? The woman at the party, drinking too much, stealing the birthday balloons? Another, playing the slot machines with the dying woman? Or the woman searching for a goose with her possibly lesbian boss?

At first, I held myself aloof, “not really like me.” But somewhere along the third story, the clarity and density and unifying humanity of these people overwhelmed me. Mostly first person, always female, often unnamed narrators usually in some complex pickle of a situation, but with lines like these:

“I can’t go back to sleep now. Nothing to do but wait. If I wait long enough time will catch up.” Or, “Back to the motion of the rocking elevator, everything working together, the cables and wheels and pulleys, and Bert and me safe in mid-air.” Or, “You are a body breathing in, a body breathing out. You are breathing. You are breath. You are, at last, nothing.”

The individual circumstances suck you in, the storylines of love and loss, birth and infertility. But the details don’t really matter in the end. What’s compelling is how, regardless of the struggles with our individual insecurities and circumstances, we share a common humanity. More alike than different. Perhaps it’s really the second meaning of the title that the author intended after all: “People Like You.” – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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