So poetically haunting is Jen Michalski’s From Here, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact characteristic that makes it so beautiful and enticing. Is it the way each story shapes a world of its own and invites the reader to places they never before have seen? Is it the stunning metaphors and descriptions that build characters strong enough to be perceived as real people? Or is it the incredible way Michalski articulates that familiar sense of longing, of yearning for something, anything more than what we have now? Whatever the reason, From Here captures the reader’s heart and fills it with powerful imagery and emotion.
Michalski’s latest publication from Aqueous Books is a compilation of short stories all with the central themes of inner conflict, exterior struggle, and the unyielding desire for change, whatever that change may be. The main figures in each story are drastically different from one another in age, gender, race, and location. With characters closely resembling the sexually/racially ambiguous nature of David Levithan’s A from Everyday, each story in this collection brings the reader to a profound conclusion: We all struggle in some way with ourselves, with others, and with our ever-present desire for that unattainable elsewhere. From Here boldly states, “Give me the poor Polish girl selling drugs to feed her sister, give me the neglected boys in the baseball field searching for some source of happiness, give me the Vietnamese father clinging to the fantasy family he’ll never have and I’ll show you how each heart beats with the same suffering.”
While From Here is compelling in its exploration of the inner struggles of each character it presents, the book is not one that can be read straight through. The extreme attention to detail in each story leaves the reader begging for more, yet not quite ready to move on to the next vignette. The 265-page book may appear at first glance to be a light and easy read, but once the reader is immersed in the worlds Michalski creates, it becomes clear the material is anything but light or easy. The profoundly emotive nature of each story leaves a great impact on the reader; however, this impact can be detrimental to the reader’s motivation to move on through the book. Perhaps it is the extremely personal nature of each tale that grabs hold of the heartstrings of the reader and prevents them from being able to move on to the next story. However, this is nothing a short coffee break and a good cleansing of the mind can’t amend.
Overall, Michalski’s From Here is a powerful collection of fiction that successfully creates and explores the lives of an array of characters. So insightful and deliberately crafted is each story that the reader almost feels as if these tales are nonfictional. While each story leaves one fulfilled and greatly impacted, it is difficult for the reader to abandon the character to whom they’ve grown so attached in place of the next to come. It is for this reason the book should be read slowly and deliberately in order to truly appreciate the intricacies and emotions of each vignette.
From Here is an astounding testament to human nature and our desire to better our lives in whatever way we can. While each character is drastically different, it soon becomes apparent to the reader that they are also intrinsically the same. Their struggles, their desires, their heartbreaks, their fears all reverberate through each story as they connect even the most unlikely of characters in a way that is beautifully poetic. The greatest takeaway from this lovely compilation is that no matter the circumstance, no matter our background, no matter our perceived differences, our suffering is the same. In an age where our differences make us feel disconnected from one another, it is refreshing to see a set of stories that successfully illustrates how we can find comfort in knowing we indeed are not alone in our struggles.