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Michigan Bookmark: In “States of Motion,” small town residents defend a world that’s vanishing

States of Motion - Stories by Laura Hulthen Thomas
Wayne State University Press, 2017

Thomas generously gives us the whole messy life. This is deeply satisfying, but you have to pay attention.

In the story "An Uneven Recovery," two women, Helen and Gina, are chatting over a backyard fence and we are off and running. We learn the two women dislike, but use each other, and that following the real estate crash Gina's marriage is a shambles and there is no money. More: There is a long history between Gina and her father, who abandoned her mother, and is now enamored with a 22-year-old fortune teller. Somehow, despite all of this, Thomas finds a way for at least a little happiness.

In "Sole Suspect," Perry's daughter and her friend have disappeared. Perry, who had been raising the daughter on his own, is a suspect and is shunned by his community. Twenty years go by and a car with the two girls in it is discovered in a lake. The girls had been drowned. What is the connection between the drowning and the man Perry comes upon, night after night, huddled in the middle of the road? Why is the man longing to be run over? In this psychological mystery, the story is not quite what it seems.

The story "Lab Will Care" is set in a university laboratory. Emily, struggling to preserve the goals of a research study, confronts the lab’s director, who is manipulating the study to benefit his daughter's illness.  At the same time, Emily has an old friend, Dinah, who is now an animal rights activist and threatening the lab. Dinah once seduced a man Emily cared for and now Dinah has come back for her friend’s help in that man's disintegrating life.     

The titular story "States of Motion” begins with a children's Olympiad competition. There’s illicit love in a custodial closet and the traumatic death of a dog. Moor and her husband, Ivan, both endured painful childhoods in their native Russia. They are in the States now and safe, but their lingering fear still touches everything in their lives. Moor is unable to say the words, "It'll be OK."

Thomas, whose stories have appeared in a number of literary journals, heads the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan's Residential College. Her many Michigan settings are varied, detailed, and familiar to us. She is adept at giving us a character in a few words. They feel like people we have all known. Their thoughts have often been our thoughts, and their secrets are not far from our own.

Listen to writer Gloria Whelan's review of States of Motion above in Stateside's latest installment of Michigan Bookmark

Gloria Whelan won the National Book Award for her young adult novel, Homeless Bird. Her fiction has appeared in Prize Stories: O. Henry Awards, and her short story collection, Living Together, was a ForeWord Review Finalist.

Michigan Bookmark is a series that features Michigan authors reviewing Michigan books. Find more reviews here.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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