Anne Valente’s debut collection of short fiction, By Light We Knew Our Names, is a true triumph. This astonishing, freshly voiced collection, formed of thirteen delicately conceived and devastatingly well-crafted stories, clings to the skin, takes up residence in the hollow of your bones. Valente’s stories rip your heart out before handing it gently back to you. She sows wonder alongside of sorrow and shapes grief with a somber majesty. In these stories, a collective of young women chart their own metamorphosis by the expeditions of Amelia Earhart; the silent apparitions of a girl’s grandparents begin to appear in the wake of her mother’s death, leaving relics of a childhood she is already on the cusp on leaving behind; a woman faces the aftermath of her abduction from the dimly-lit streets near her home; a newly-single-father struggles to overcome the void his wife leaves behind; and a lab assistant faces tragedy as he falls in love with the octopuses he tends. By Light We Knew Our Names offers an honest, compelling examination of the nature of devastation – the blurred and brittle lines between heartbreak and joy, loss and redemption. Valente’s prose is remarkably rendered, graceful and precise. Her words are deftly chosen, each sentence a specific and melodic instance. The language of these stories undoes you, awakens something deep within the echoing chambers of you heart, something vital and brimming – a physical pressure in your chest, a tightening of your throat. Yes, there is anguish here, but there is beauty as well, as it must be, since, as Valente so elegantly shows us, it is only through one that other can be truly known.
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