The stories in Things Kept, Things Left Behind explore the ambiguities of kept secrets, the tangles of abandoned pasts, and uneasy accommodations. Jim Tomlinson’s characters each face the desire to reclaim dreams left behind, along with something of the dreamer that was also lost. Starkly rendered, these spiraling characters inhabit a specific place and class—small-town Kentucky, working-class America—but the stories, told in all their humor and tragedy, are universal.
In each story the characters face conflict, sometimes within themselves, sometimes with each other. Each carries a past and with it an urge to return and repair. In “First Husband, First Wife,” ex-spouses are repeatedly drawn together by a shared history they cannot seem to escape, and they are finally forced to choose between leaving the past or leaving each other. LeAnn and Cass are grown sisters who conspire to help their prideful mother in “Things Kept.” “Prologue” is a voyeuristic journey through the surprisingly different lives of two star-crossed friends, each with its successes and pitfalls, told through their letters over thirty-five years. In “Stainless,” Annie and Warren divide their possessions on the final night of their marriage. Their realtor has advised them to “declutter” the house they are leaving, but they discover that most of the clutter cannot be so easily removed.
The choices are never simple, and for every thing kept, something must be abandoned. Tomlinson’s characters struggle but eventually find their way, often unknowingly, to points of departure, to places where things just might change.
“Jim Tomlinson uses the traditional gifts of the writer—love of place, a keen eye for the telling detail, unflagging interest in the human heart—to bring to life a very specific and eye-opening version of America, particularly working-class, rural America. In Things Kept, Things Left Behind, his care for these people and his generosity toward them are evident on every page.”—George Saunders
“In one story within his brilliant debut collection, Jim Tomlinson describes the effect of a headshot to a rabbit’s body, using words that are applicable to the emotional impact I experience when reading his work: ‘startling, paralyzing,’ as he snatches my breath away and leaves me with an ache that is ‘sudden, sharp, and bone-deep.’ With his flawless ear for speech and great compassion and wisdom regarding measures of the human heart, Tomlinson drops us right into lives and situations that mesmerize and stun and shock each and every time. A perfect collection of headshots and heartshots from a gifted first-rate storyteller.”—Jill McCorkle
“Jim Tomlinson’s Things Kept, Things Left Behind is a splendid debut collection of short stories that explores the enduring theme of our quest for an identity. Though deeply connected to the spirit of small towns, these stories reveal aspects of the human condition that have universal resonance. This is an impressive first book in a venerable series by a very talented new voice in American fiction.”—Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain