While it’s typical for media to display love under rose-colored lenses, The Geography of First Kisses by Karin Cecile Davidson shows the in-betweens of romance. Davidson reveals the love, loss, and nostalgia of relationships through the use of fully realized characters and descriptive language. With each short story, the characters feel close enough to the reader’s heart that it’s easy to trick the brain into thinking the whole book was about them from cover to cover.
The vivid diction Davidson uses tends to draw the reader in as if one was already there at the scene when it took place, with personal memories to fill in the gaps. For example, the second story in the collection, “We Are Here Because of a Horse,” follows a married couple’s metaphoric dream of a horse that they try to prove is real to each other. While traveling along with the couple, the words sweep the reader off their feet, caught up in a fictional realm of their own:
"Wayward and resolute in her invitations, she’d pull me along and I always accepted. Ever since I’d seen her on her own porch, years ago, there was something about her that went right through me. The way she sat with her chin in her hands, looking off into the distance, the three dogs lying in the dust of the yard. But now she was here in my room, and she might just turn and walk away. I knew then I would always be right there. Beside her" (16).
The meditative nostalgic-yet-distant voice of the first-person narrator sucks the reader into a journalistic style of writing as if it’s a diary collectively forgotten in one’s own closet and there is just enough of a scene for the reader to fill in the gaps of the memory shared. The porch, the dogs, the dust, become something for the reader to craft without any extra help and yet the image is still vivid enough that there wasn’t much left to discover. These images unite themselves to meld with the last collection of sentences leaving the reader with the impression that, like the aforementioned dust we might disappear, but the husband’s love never would. Although not everyone reading has had a marriage as complicated as this one, or has had a marriage at all, the relationship dynamic between these two very different personalities has enough variability to make one half of the whole a relatable figure for the reader. This leaves the love they feel for each other stronger in the mind’s eye which only adds to the intensity of the husband’s love standing firm even though “she” may have already gone.
It’s true that not every reader is married, but it’s safe to say the target audience has had at least one romantic venture given the nature of the collection’s title. There are moments in the stories where the language is so vivid it’s poetic, leaving the reader to recollect their own personal relationships due to the interactions of the words on the page. One such case being in the story “Skylight” where Chloe, the main character of this adventure, stumbles upon an assortment of goods:
"Black raspberry hibiscus, lavender orange honey, lemon ginger and matcha. Chloe finds the assortment pretty, but pointless. Until she tastes one and it disappears over her tongue like no kiss she’s ever known. She imagines a damselfly’s wings might taste as ephemeral, sheer strands of sweetness, gone as soon as they land, as soon as they’ve left you with the sense that you’ve remembered something you’d forgotten. Round on the outside and high in the middle. Something that makes you want to cry" (25).
The imagery in small sprinkles of information combined with the distance of voice, the lack of knowing the exactness of what the display looks like, goes back to enforcing that nostalgic feeling these stories have. Phrases such as, “like no kiss she’s ever known,” and “you’ve remembered something you’d forgotten,” are just vague enough not to hint at any particular event but just precise enough that the reader knows exactly the feeling the author is trying to convey. The language is vivid but also separate from the character. Despite being the one to muse about the display, Chloe isn’t necessarily the focus, which helps the reader along to imagine scenarios on their own.
The last story in the collection, “Bobwhite,” is one of the most impactful stories, leaving the reader with a different type of love and loss as compared to the other, more romantic, stories involved. Not following a married couple or a woman walking through memories, the story instead chooses to follow the innocence of a young girl after the loss of her mother. She struggles with understanding the meaning of death:
"…the big mirror reflecting her straight shoulders, her dark shoulder-length hair, her wide-set hazel eyes, so like her mother’s—Carly understood there had been a color to that Sunday morning in Picayune, Mississippi. She considered its twist and texture, how it wrapped itself around her thoughts, how she’d daydream in the midst of company who came with condolences" (122).
While only able to process the loss of her mother with her own reflection, she reminisces on the small visual notes of what her mother looked like through her own image. However, she is still too young to be able to note “death” and instead remembers the morning of the funeral and what the sky looked like. For the readers that have lost loved ones, these feelings ring heavy and true. For the readers that haven’t, the empathy felt for her is strong due to the sorrowful undertones of the language. Whether or not we choose to accept it, everyone has experienced being a child and not understanding one thing or another that everyone around us seemed to understand at the time. Carly is able to grapple with complicated ideas in a way that makes sense to her, but the language isn’t so childish as to not make sense to the reader.
Whether one is following the tales of a struggling married couple, remembering vivid kisses via food, or trying to handle the loss of a loved one, The Geography of First Kisses covers it all and more throughout the collection. Each story has a voice that paints the outlines of a picture and leaves the reader to color in the rest. However, that doesn’t mean each story is identical to the others with their own wide array of characters, twists, and turns. The nostalgic feeling of reading an old diary hits the reader with a different experience of emotions on each page, leaving them unable to put the diary down due to the newfound memories.