Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2005 | Reviews

What You've Been Missing by Janet Desaulniers

By Jennifer Hemmingsen

The ten vignettes in Janet Desaulniers’ What You’ve Been Missing are lightning flashes illuminating the precise moment her characters’ lives crack under the weight of their own prevarication. They offer heartbreakingly intricate portraits of people unable any more to ignore the faithless husband, the self-destructive sister, the drunk and unstable mother, the deeply buried past.

Desaulniers creates an experience as visceral as it is cerebral. As the mother in the collection’s first story, “Where We All Should Have Been,” says: “I am fifty-seven years old. I know the way the world feels before the other shoe drops.”

All of the stories in What You’ve Been Missing take place between shoes. The wrenching emotion is magnified by Desaulniers’ refusal to give her characters any resolution. She gives the impression that we are all flawed and hopeful architects, painstakingly building our lives as clumsy, unbalanced structures to fall before the tempest of the world’s casual cruelty.