In Gillian Linden’s debut collection of short stories, Remember How I Told You I Love You, we meet a young woman named Karen. Remember How I Told You I Love You follows Karen from college to her days as a young married woman. Through out this collection of stories, we get to know Karen and a cast of characters who drift in and out of her life.
Karen is introduced in the opening story, “Common Rooms.” A college student, Karen is shy and awkward. She soon befriends Lizzie. Together they share stories of separate trips to Italy and a fondness for Limoncello. They also gossip about a professor who they believe is having an affair with a student who is most notable for wearing a nose stud. Karen and Lizzie’s friendship is shortly threatened when Lizzie begins dating a guy named Brian.
Later on in the collection, in the story, “Ham and Crackers,” Karen deals with two low-paying jobs tedious jobs and the task of navigating the disappointment of the real world after the safe cushion of college. At one job, Karen takes care of an aging woman named Bette.
And in the final story “Pests” Karen is now married and dealing with a perceived infestation of mice and an obnoxious dog trainer for a recently acquired dog. And speaking of dogs, Karen is oddly treated by her husband as if she’s a puppy in need of same training and maybe a treat if she behaves well.
Throughout Remember How I Told You I Loved You are stories of people connected to Karen in some fashion or another. For instance, in the story “Crowded Skies” Karen’s old college roommate, Lizzie, is marrying Brian and their friends seem to all be on the same flight to their wedding. Other stories share woes of crappy jobs, bad relationships and the odd ennui many twenty-somethings go through once college has ended and they adjust to the harsh reality of adulthood.
I really wanted to like this book. As someone who has made it through her twenties somewhat intact, I knew I’d relate to the characters’ uncertainty, struggles, bad jobs, love won and lost, arguments with friends and the fear of independence. And I liked the concept of short stories that are intermingled through one character rather than stories that stand alone with different characters and different plots.
However, the execution left something to be desired. Linden is a decent writer. Well, she does seem to know the difference from a verb and a noun. And I don’t think all stories have to have dynamic, exciting plots. Stories that are character-driven can be very interesting indeed. But Linden doesn’t write interesting characters. Despite Karen and her friends’ issues, I didn’t find them compelling. I found them to be boring and not fully-developed. In fact, the student with the nose ring who was allegedly having an affair with a professor stood out more to me than anybody else. And as I kept reading this book I found myself confused, mixing up characters because they weren’t written with defining features that made them memorable in a convincing way.
The book jacket describes the stories written in a deadpan humorous way, but I didn’t chuckle once. Never once did I even crack a smile. So much for deadpan humor. Instead, I found the stories dull and dispassionate.
Interestingly enough, it is the titular story that I found somewhat for interesting. In this story, Daphne moves in with her boyfriend Dennis. Though Dennis has proclaimed his love for Daphne, she can’t help but feel her doubts especially considering Dennis is working all the time and a woman from his past named Natalie arrives to possibly upset the couple. And oddly, this story seems to have almost no connection to Karen. I kind of wish Linden would have fleshed-out this story to an actual novel, and Karen and her woeful band of friends were put into the delete pile.
Ultimately, Remember How I Told You How I Loved You is pretty darn forgetful and best left on the book store or library shelf. There are other collections of short stories worth reading, and I hope to find them.