I have read and reviewed some amazing short story collections this summer by Elizabeth Strout and Haruki Murakami. So naturally, I dived into Reader, I Married Him with high expectations. The short story collection is based off of the closing line to the ever lovely Jane Eyre, and is a compilation of twenty one authoresses (why don’t we use this word more??), several whom I have read and loved.
Shoving aside my expectations of the stories being glorified Jane Eyre fan fiction after reading the foreword I truly went into the book with an open mind. But try as I might, the collection just didn’t seem to sit right. Often times I was hard pressed to find a connection to Thornfield and Mr. Rochester, except in the most vaguest of senses. I can appreciate that each woman truly did come away with something different from the line, and maybe there is something to that, but this hodgepodge of tales just seemed like a bunch of papers were thrown in the air, gathered up, and bound under the auspices of one of the most famous literary pieces of all time. Jane Eyre, rather than being the centerpiece of the collection seemed more like a convenient brand placement in a B-list movie.
Not all of the stories were bad. In fact, there were some I really related to and enjoyed. The runner and dog-lover in me was drawn to “Dangerous Dog,” a gritty story in which the narrator shares her love of literature with a group of teenage boys and gets her own Rochester out of the deal, and “Reader, She Married Me” was an interesting take on the story from Mr. Rochester’s perspective and a reminder that every story has two sides.
With twenty one stories in the collection it was a mixed bag, and the narratives were either hits or misses. There were some five stars, but also two and three stars that were quickly forgotten with the next tale. It was plain to see that the short story format was not every author’s strength: there were stories that I felt ended suddenly or were incomplete, while other authors excelled in their tales. It reminded me of my school’s literary magazine that was published at the end of every school year, with the masterpieces and scribbles all rolled into one parcel.
Overall I would give the story three stars: there were some peaks and valleys, but in the end nothing that really made this book remarkable or memorable. To get the real good stuff you need to turn to Jane Eyre herself.