I have found an odd thing about writing reviews: I tend to find it a lot easier to describe what I don’t like about a book than what I do. If I put down a book that I hated, I can very easily write a review detailing every flaw. But it’s a lot harder to explain why a book appeals to me. So although I really liked Survival Skills, I’m not sure I can properly convey it!
Survival Skills is a collection of short stories, and it is one of those quietly beautiful books. The stories flow naturally, and although they do not end tied in a neat bow, they don’t feel abrupt, which I have found often happens in short story collections. There is a mix of lesbian and straight protagonists in this collection, but I definitely recommend reading them all.
I understood this collection even better when I looked at the publisher: Ashland Creek Press describes itself as a publisher with a “mission to publish a range of books that foster an appreciation for worlds outside our own, for nature and the animal kingdom, and the ways in which we all connect.” I hadn’t considered it until after reading the publisher’s blurb, but Survival Skills does include a theme of nature. Throughout the stories, pets feature prominently, or a character chases hurricanes, or a woman finds herself competing with an octopus (or a parrot) for her girlfriend’s affections. This isn’t completely overbearing, but it does offer a thread throughout the collection. It also seemed to ground the stories; it made the problems seem less overwhelming when the stories kept coming back to other living things, fitting these stories into a larger network. But it is the human struggles that are focused on, with nature as a backdrop.
Mostly, I liked Survival Skills so much because the writing style really appealed to me. Usually I can tell within the first page or two whether I will enjoy an author’s style or have to slog through it. With this one, I immediately wanted to settle in and read more, and I put Jean Ryan’s novel, Lost Sister, on my to read list as soon as I finished Survival Skills. Needless to say, I highly recommend this one.