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Merle

Merle

The Ladies Are Upstairs by Merle Collins

The Ladies Are Upstairs - Merle Collins

This is a competently-written short story collection that isn’t quite sharp enough to be likely to appeal to a large audience. The setting appears to be a fictional analogue for Grenada, the author’s home country.

The first story, “Rain Darling,” is almost 50 pages long and begins with three women visiting another in the hospital. It turns out that Rain, the protagonist, had a tough childhood and has spent most of her adult life engulfed in depression, in a time before many people knew what that meant. This story has a few too many names floating around, but the plot and characters are interesting; there’s definite potential that might have been realized with sharper editing.

The remaining 100 pages are comprised of the ten “Doux stories” – from the book description I expected the stories to follow Doux throughout her life, but… not quite. This section begins with four stories focusing on moments in Doux’s childhood and young adulthood – perfectly fine stories though nothing too memorable, about a young woman growing up with a poor single mother and making her way in life.

The collection got off track for me when it then skipped 60 years of Doux’s life, and instead gave us three ghost stories featuring people more or less tangentially related to Doux. These stories all follow the same blueprint, of someone traveling around the island, encountering an apparition they first believe is real, and narrowly escaping from the largely imagined threat. These repetitive stories are a little creepy but mostly felt out-of-place. The final two stories refocus on Doux as an old woman, feeling alienated living in the American suburbs with her busy adult children; the second-to-last story is too short and inconclusive to register much, but the last is effective.

Overall, this is a decent collection, but I can’t help feeling there’s unrealized potential here that a better editor might have tapped into. I might try one of Collins’s novels, since her writing seems best when it has a consistent focus.