EDITOR’S NOTES: This book is being highlight this month in response to October being “CONFLICT RESOLUTION” MONTH. (We only promote books written by Colorado authors)
Author Jenny Shank lives in Denver. Some may think it is a homogenous neighborhood, with mostly troubling but not disturbing conflicts over things like, the decision to buy a car or not since you work downtown, or, how to bring up a child in a heavily trafficked area, or, can the city cut down my tree? But she reveals its ethnically diverse population in her book “Mixed Company,” and some deep conflicts among them that are not easily visible to those around them. The short fiction stories in “Mixed Company” mainly include: a youth, crossing generations, and ethnicity. And all give the reader a path to dealing with conflicts in graceful ways.
So this makes the stories unique because, first, the characters might be considered gritty, and, second, she takes you inside the feelings and thoughts of those people. She is able to present stories of survival in both a delightful and harsh way.
Shank is good at capturing the voice of the person she is writing about. Here is the first attention-grabbing paragraph in her story “L’homme de ma vie.” (The Man of My Life)
“On my wedding day, I realized I didn’t know my mother-in-law’s name. I’d never met her, and Etienne rarely spoke of her. Her name was—is—Veronique. The gap in my husband’s family didn’t really bother me until we had the kid, a couple of years after we married. When the kid was two, we brought her from Colorado to Paris to meet great-aunt Adelaide, the woman who’d taken care of him as a baby after the first time Veronique tried to kill herself.”
As the story continues, on just the first page she piles on so much unique material that you can’t stop reading. So… the two-year old Colorado-born girl can speak French with a French-accent – the French mother/grandmother had attempted suicide multiple times in her life – there was schizophrenia running through the family line. The next pages reveal a horrific childhood for the husband, Etienne, with an unstable mother. And, even as an adult he admitted that he thought about his emotional wounds every day. He did not own nor want a photo of her.
The story takes place in Paris, first in the apartment of the aunt, and then they go visit his mother. She has lived alone in an apartment for decades and has a caregiver, as she is incapable of living alone due to her irrational mental behavior. On previous trips, Etienne had never introduced his wife to his mother; but he felt it was time to do so, now that he had a child.
The wife wondered why he would try to reconnect with his mother, based on the terrible childhood he had, but she surmised: I was beginning to understand that all of us had a built-in mother homing instinct, whether the woman on the other end of it warranted it or not. The instinct was so strong that almost nothing could kill it, not insanity or separation or death.”
In the end, the grandmother did not open her door to them, but ranted obnoxious, irrational things, and told them to go away. The wife takes this past and present knowledge and turns it into a decision to focus on creating a more loving life for her daughter and husband, and that is enough. The story soon ends, and you might say, that’s not a good example of conflict resolution. They didn’t meet and make up. But think again. The resolution was in understanding that we are born with a need for our family (the “homing instinct”) but we can’t control it to meet our emotional needs. We can only control what we do now, as mothers. Can you use that to understand yourself or others better?
General Description of the Book:
The book won the George Garrett Fiction Prize which honors those who perform outstanding community service to the literary community. It is given to one book a year for excellence in a short story collection or novel.
A review described her book as “revealing moments of grace and connection between people of her hometown, Denver, through stories that contrast the city during its oil-bust era of economic troubles and court-ordered crosstown busing for racial desegregation with the burgeoning and gentrifying city of recent years.”
The author said to me, “My book, Mixed Company, is a collection of funny stories about people trying to reach across chasms caused by differences in race, culture, native language, disability, age, gender, and political beliefs and form some kind of connection—love, friendship, or at least respect.”
=In “Casa del Rey,” a cautious pregnant woman must contend with her out-of-control and intrusive neighbor.
=In “Hurts,” a girls’ basketball team at a majority Black Denver high school clashes with a white ‘mountain’ team.
=In “La Sexycana,” a bottom-feeding journalist ventures to a dance club to confront the young Latina woman she mentored as a teenager who then cut off all contact with her.
=“Lightest Lights Against Darkest Darks” follows a white middle-schooler bused to a majority Black school, who falls under the spell of her magnetic and racially ambiguous art teacher.
=In “Signing for Linemen,” a graduate student in medieval literature takes a job as a summer tutor for a college football team and ends up learning more than she expected about athletes, American Sign Language, and herself.
=In “Local Honey,” middle-aged white parents bring their adopted Black teenage son to a Wu-Tang Clan concert in an attempt to bond with him.
The publication of this book has been delayed due to this year’s supply chain problems, but it can be ordered through Tattered Cover (independent book store); expected delivery is November. Or attend one of her book signings during October (see below) to obtain one of the handful of early published editions.
==Thursday, October 21, 6:30 p.m. Mixed Company Boulder Book Launch, Boulder Book Store (1107 Pearl St. Boulder, CO, $5 tickets, good for $5 toward a purchase available now
==Saturday, October 23, Montana Book Festival Short Story Panel Discussion, The Big Short Story: Big Imaginations in Small Spaces with David Allen Cates, Wendy J. Fox, Joseph Holt, and Jenny Shank, 3 p.m. MST, free, via Zoom.
==Saturday, October 30, 5 p.m., Mixed Company Happy Hour at Lighthouse,Lighthouse Writers Workshop (York Street Yards, 3845 Steele St, Denver, CO), in person and via Zoom, free, but please RSVP.