Do Not Deny Me: Stories
Do Not Deny Me is a collection of twelve short stories that represent literary fiction at its very best. Each tale is beautifully crafted, with precise and striking phrases and detailed, relatable characters. The first story, “Soldiers of Spiritos,” hints at the writer’s opinions on literary criticism. An aging English professor and his discouraged student find that they share a love of dramatic literature and a distaste for modern criticism that replaces appreciation with overwrought analysis.
There’s much here to appreciate and, if one is so inclined, to analyze. Thompson is renown in literary circles for her sharp wit, and it’s easy to see why, whether you read purely for enjoyment, or dwell on the variety of literary techniques, which include second person narration (“The Woman at the Well”), peripheral character narration (“Little Brown Bird”), and an unreliable narrator (“Mr. Rat”).
The title story is an eerie account of a young woman’s reaction to her boyfriend’s sudden death. She encounters a stranger with questionable psychic powers, and despite her skepticism, longs to find comfort in the idea of supernatural forces. Another exceptional story is “Escape,” a deeply affecting narrative about a man who suffers brain damage and has an increasingly antagonistic relationship with his wife and caretaker. Frustrated with his helplessness and his wife’s ability to control him, he becomes more and more reckless in his attempts to get away. It’s easy to imagine this story on an AP Literature exam ten years from now.
“Wilderness” juxtaposes a love letter from a Walden-Pond wannabe environmentalist with the recipient’s Thanksgiving weekend in the suburbs. The protagonist is surprised to find her former best friend has become a matronly mother of two teenage boys—and even more surprised to find that her friend’s husband is having an affair.
“Little Brown Bird” is the story of an overlooked young girl who reaches out to a neighbor. The neighbor suspects the girl is being abused but doesn’t know how to help, and fears retribution if she shares her suspicions. “Liberty Tax” is a meditation on how people in financial distress rationalize unethical or illegal behavior. “Treehouse” details a man’s attempt to remove himself from the burdens of his humanity by building a new home for himself in his own backyard. “Mr. Rat” features an incredibly unlikable (and sexist) protagonist who gets one of his co-workers fired, and may or may not have driven another to suicide. Readers are left wondering why betrayal comes so easily to this character, and if it is, as he claims, because he is “a triumph of natural selection.”
“Triumph” is an excellent way to describe this collection. The variety of themes, situations, and characters provide glimpses into different experiences of modern American life and leave readers with a wealth to reflect upon. Every story is so full of insight and poetry, readers will find themselves underlining entire passages and longing to discuss them with literary friends.