These are some of the people that appear in Maile Meloy's short story collection, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.
Meloy's characters just want to know that they matter to someone. No, wait. Only half of them pull your heartstrings that way. The other half display monumental selfishness, throwing their near and dear away like empty water bottles. Meloy's tales kept me on her what-will-happen-next hook, but when I closed the last page, I couldn't remember a single one of them. It was as if I had wolfed down a bag of Cheese Puffs. Airy and unsatisfying, they only make you want to search the cupboards for some other junk to fill the void.
Maybe the trouble with short stories is that the reader moves from one person to the next--college girl, wronged wife, pitiful floozy--never knowing enough, never stopping long enough to care. I can see the most interesting people in Wal-Mart, wearing what ought to be pajamas, and forget them a half-hour later. But as for people at church, I remember their hometowns, their wardrobes, their visiting relatives and their oddest comments in Relief Society, simply because I'm with them long enough for all this minutiae to build up and stick.
But let us recognize Meloy for her many awards. She writes a well-constructed tale. A lot of well-constructed tales, actually, even if they are populated with people you wouldn't want as neighbors or relatives.
As long as we're dealing with fleeting characters, why don't we celebrate one of nature's most fleeting foods -- the strawberry.
My mother-in-law grew strawberries, sending jars of freezer jam to our house every June. The jam lasted not much longer than the third week in July. The second-best way of remembering Grandma and her strawberry crop was the jello she brought to holiday dinners, rich and thick with berries she had frozen the summer before. The woman hates cooking; she would rather spend Christmas playing with the kids and their new toys, then serve pot pies for dinner. On the effort scale, this jello was as high as she would go.
For my children, a holiday isn't holiday without:
1 container (16 oz.) frozen, sweetened, sliced strawberries
1 package (6 oz.) strawberry jello
2 cups boiling water
2 cups mini-marshmallows
Partially thaw the berries in the microwave, 1 minute at 30%.
Dissolve the jello in boiling water. Add the berries, stirring until they break up into bite-sized chunks. Chill for 15-20 minutes, or until syrupy. Slice the bananas, stir into the jello mixture. Stir in marshmallows. Pour into a serving bowl or 9x13-inch pan. Chill for four hours. Serves 8 at 200 cals. each.