Janet Killeen’s accomplished book of short stories, There is a Season, speaks volumes about the role of chance, shared world history, and the personal past in our lives. Written by a native of Yorkshire, England, who spent a lifetime teaching literature and mentoring new teachers at the University of Kent and in London, the anthology is an evocative and mature production.
The work starts off with its weakest story, “Beneath the Floor,” which relies too much on spacing for emphasis, although the view it offers of the life of a housemaid whose experience resonates in the structure of the house itself is intriguing. Hopefully, readers won’t be deterred by this, because those who continue will be rewarded with much more assured work — stories delivered with the quiet understatement, sense of time and place, and belief in the large significance of events in small, ordinary lives that calls to mind the work of H.E. Bates.
Many of the characters’ lives have been profoundly affected by the World Wars, either through loss of a loved one or the dearth of marriageable men that left so many women without hope of having life partners. “Miss Browning” is one of them. She appears in a story of that title in which a spinster schoolteacher, long ago entrusted with a ring belonging to a soldier met during a chance encounter, finds a way to connect with his family. Similarly, “Adjusting Her Ideas” explores the emotional transformation of a “dull” unmarried aunt, thanks to the children in her life.
By far the most impressive piece is “The Journeying Boy,” an utterly engrossing story about a lonely schoolboy who finds family and connection with his aunt, who helps him to understand an aspect of his identity that literally haunts him. Delicately written, with a profound understanding of how to convey tentative interpersonal connection, this is the jewel in the crown of 14 stories in a book that is highly recommended to all connoisseurs of the literary short story.
Also available in hardcover