I've loved everything from Tin House publishing, but for some reason, Mary Otis' short story collection: Yes, Yes, Cherries has sat on my to-be-read bookshelf for years. Prior to reading the collection, I had not heard of Mary Otis. I've had such great luck with enjoying books from Tin House, that I just scoop up what they publish without reading up on the authors or content of the books. I never quite know what I am going to get.
Yes, Yes, Cherries is a short, quick read. It's easy to finish in a few hours, even if you slow down your reading speed to absorb Otis' beautiful prose. And you should slow down!
Otis writes stories that go to dark places, often with characters either engaging in taboos or living on the fringe of society. The striking thing about her characters, is there is no judgement. I felt neutral while reading about them, as if it was a character study and I was just waiting to see how it all played out. I think this might be considered a negative if the format wasn't short story, but as the stories averaged twenty pages, I didn't need to develop empathy with the characters. It was engaging enough to see how the various scenarios conclude.
I felt like all of the stories were written to provoke the reader into their own mind game of what would you do? The characters are thrown into various immoral activities, such as the woman who has an affair with her landlord, while the landlords mentally ill wife desperately tries to befriend her or a nearly homeless woman who takes a job at a dry cleaners out of desperation only to discover that her place of employment is a front for criminal activity.
Not all of the characters in Otis' stories engage in morally questionable behavior. She also writes characters that are awkward or normal characters written into uncomfortable situations. The very first story of the collection, Pilgrim Girl, is about pre-teen with a desperate crush on her next door neighbor. The girl, Allison, interacts with both her crush and his wife in really bizarre and uncomfortable ways. I was squirming while reading the story.
Otis has an off-beat take on the world and it shines through in her writing. It keeps it interesting and all of the stories in her collection are strong. As much as I enjoy reading shorts, I would love to see how her literary voice would translate to a novel.