By Laura Krughoff
Arc Pair Press, 2018
Laura Krughoff’s, Wake in the Night, delivers stories of women ranging in age from 10 to 100 and spread over a century of time. The six stories in this collection highlight the struggle to define one’s identity combined with the pressure to live up to expectations and social conventions. When reading Wake in the Night, I also came across a true crime essay by Ann Hood in The Normal School. Hood’s essay, “The Hand the Rocks the Cradle,” details two accounts of nannies who murdered the children in their care. The crimes are decades apart, but the response is shockingly similar. In each case, the mother is attacked in court, in the media, and by other mothers because the women entrusted the care of their children to other women in order to work. Both Hood’s essay and Krughoff’s stories show us that even when we think much has changed, there are still lingering societal expectations from decades passed placed on women. We are often as much how others define us, as we are deciding that for ourselves. The writing in Wake in the Night is intelligent, powerful, and surprising. Good fiction is an exploration, a place where the reader can gain new understanding and insight, and Krughoff delivers that.
The first story, “This is One Way,” starts fearlessly and sets the tone for the others that follow. Krughoff successfully uses second-person narration in a way that makes the story come alive, without distancing the reader from the character, and allows her to capture a stunning amount of life in under seven pages. The narrator in “By the Time You are One Hundred” calls life “long and strange,” but it is clear she doesn’t want to leave this world even as she longs for the people who have already died. It is a perfect reflection on the messiness and joy of being alive and the different relationships that sustain us. In “Skinned,” a young girl undresses for her friend’s older brother in return for loose change. It is as uncomfortable as it sounds, and alarming, but what is most surprising about this story is how Krughoff unexpectedly creates a connection with the reader and the boy.
Krughoff pays careful attention to the art of storytelling, experimenting with narration and structure to land on the best form and voice for each story. Several stories are told in the second person, and this adds depth and emotion, rather than being a distraction. “History of a Hunting Accident,” is told entirely as a series of questions. This technique doesn’t become tiresome, but as the questions pile up and the story careens towards its violent conclusion, the reader realizes how much we do not know about what is in the hearts of others. Particularly when the unthinkable has happened, everything becomes a question and even the smallest details matter.
Krughoff’s stories may first appear to be familiar snapshots from the lives of women, but she often shifts the perspective and gives the reader a new angle to consider. Krughoff is no stranger to stories that highlight unique and under-heard voices. Her debut novel, My Brother’s Name, was published in 2013 and explores gender passing and mental illness. Wake in the Night is flooded with life, and one gets the sense that Krughoff is a careful study of character and what forms a person’s identity. That curiosity and care with which Krughoff approaches her characters are deeply felt in her writing, making this an unforgettable collection. –Emily Webber