What It Might Feel Like to Hope, a review

Dorene O’Brien’s collection of short stories, What It Might Feel like to Hope, surprises and delights the reader on every page. Eleven stories, whose titles are irresistible invitations–”Eight Blind Dates Later,” “Tom Hanks Wants a Story,” “Pocket Philosopher”–take the reader into the lives of characters on the threshold of change.


In “Turn of the Wind” a scientist specializing in crystallography, facing the onset of dementia, leaves the lab and builds weathervanes for a hobby. A weathervane, he says, “is a story on a stick,” it “offers beauty without the hope of anything more.”  Faith, the main character in “Falling Forward,” takes responsibility for her dysfunctional neighbor, Ed, “a creased and rumpled man with doom etched on his face.” She is alone, and he is alone but for a lizard named Little Richard who figures prominently in the story’s climax, which holds out the promise of “falling forward into a new life.”   

In “Honesty Above All Else,” along with the title of the story, O’Brien deploys a skilled writer’s second device for grabbing the reader, a smart first sentence: “I’ve never told anyone this story, and I’m only telling you now because Mrs. O’Leary is dead.” These first sentences aren’t just springboards; they’re catapults.  Like this, in “A Short Distance Behind Us”: “Braelynn and I have been operating at the intersection of I love you and Fuck off for the last year.”  And like this, in “Reaping: “Her hair was pulled up into a plastic bag, and red dye trickled down her face and neck as she stood on the front porch trembling.” And here, in “Little Birds”: “May told Dina to take the chair, or she’d regret it for the rest of her life.”  

Five of these stories are first person narrative, five are third person, and one, the Tom Hanks piece, subtitled “An Anatomy of a Tale” (it might also be subtitled “What It Might Feel like to Write”) is at times first, second, and third.  

Technically accomplished, emotionally taut, always captivating, these vivid stories are little worlds of conflict, pain, beauty, and hope. They are richly imagined and deeply satisfying.  Dorene O’Brien has written a truly beautiful book. 


Say What?

misspoke 2

Three times in the last week I’ve seen “welp” in print. Like this: “Welp, now O.J. Simpson thinks Carole Baskin from ‘Tiger King’ killed her husband.” 

And this: “Welp, I can die happy now. Chocolate cake stuffed inside this pup-cone!” 

This morning, I was scrolling through articles on Flipboard and saw this lead from a publication called Well and Good, an article by an anal surgeon:  “Welp, I hate to break it to you but [wiping] isn’t the best way to keep your butt clean.” 

What drew me to the article was the “welp.” 

Really. Continue reading “Say What?”

If This Is Shelter

I look over my shoulder at the clock on the oven, 11:19 a.m.  Not yet, I think. A few more minutes.

These are counting days. We count the deer we see on our morning walks, the orphan gloves dropped and lying at the edge of the sidewalk; the coyotes and vultures, one each yesterday. We count the days we’ve been sheltering in place, peruse the daily Covid-19 statistics in Michigan, in the US, and around the world. We open the fridge and count eggs. Continue reading “If This Is Shelter”

No Exit from Guyville


“So sorry to hear of your loss,” I wrote. “We’ll be thinking of you guys.”

It was an email to friends ten years our senior, a couple who had recently lost a father 94 years old. Not to Coronavirus but to plain old old age. It was an ordinary passing–although no passing is ever really ordinary. I re-read the sentence, stuck on “you guys,” thought about it, then rewrote. “I understand you’ve had a death in the family. So very sorry.”

You guys? Really?  Continue reading “No Exit from Guyville”

The Big This


My wife says I have plumber’s butt.  

We’re in the kitchen. She’s applying a lotion that’s supposed to help with my lower back pain.  I’m a drug man, myself. Every six hours I’ve been hitting the Ibuprofen and extra-strength Tylenol. “Better living through chemicals,” my dentist friend Dennis says. Better living through stretching my MD friend Rob says.  He gets what I have, taut hip flexors. I’ve seen him walk kind of crooked and bent over. Rounds at the hospital, he said, could be murder. All that standing around. He stretches. In a pinch, he’ll take the drugs.   Continue reading “The Big This”

The Flood Will Come

our ditch

I’m feeling good about our ditch.

Between our house and the house next door, running from the street to the back of the lot, this ditch conveys water to a large storm drain. Surface water drains into this ditch. Our sump water is pumped into this ditch. The water from the long ditch across the street, a major tributary, flows under the road through 12-inch pipe and into our ditch.

Six feet across, four feet deep, in a hard rain this ditch moves a lot of water. Unfortunately, along a third of its length, six tall, prolific cottonwood trees loom over it. They drop loads of crap–pods and clots of cotton spring and summer, a continuous blizzard of leaves in the fall, sticks year around–a plague of tree matter that winds up in the ditch and is dragged by the flow of water in a heavy downpour all the way back to the storm drain, which clogs, backs up, and forms a lake that can only be unclogged by hand. Of course, our backed-up ditch affects the one across the street. We’re all in this together.
Continue reading “The Flood Will Come”

An editorial


National Healthcare Is National Defense.

According to the Wall Street Journal, South Korea is capable of testing 20,000 people a day for coronavirus. Way more than the US. How much more? That’s a difficult question–because the number being tested in the US is uncertain. We can say with confidence, however, that the US is testing fewer than 20,000 people a day.

For the scale of this US failure, consider the numbers. Continue reading “An editorial”