Blackberries, Blackberries by Crystal Wilkinson grabbed my imagination and immersed me into the characters’ lives immediately. Each story stands on its own, but Wilkinson weaves the feeling of community and family throughout the book providing seamless continuity. Though all the stories project the distinctive Kentucky flavor of their setting, anyone can relate to the range of human emotions, relationships, and interactions with honesty and integrity.
Eighteen stories populate Blackberries, Blackberries. Titles like Humming Back Yesterday, Chocolate Divine, Mine and Need induce smiles while they hint at the literary talent of Wilkinson. Stories explore mother-daughter relationships, servitude, adultery and soul searching among other themes. Wilkinson’s stories feel so real, I found it necessary to remind myself I was reading fiction. I wanted to sit down for cup of coffee or a drink with several different characters. I wanted to know what happened later in many characters’ lives. The stories created that rare blend of satisfaction and a desire for more produced by skillful writing.
Every story in Blackberries, Blackberries strikes a perfect balance of plot, emotion, character, and interpersonal interaction. Each story brings a sense of growth to the characters as well as insight into the human condition that connects us all. Whether it’s two women discussing the cheating man they share over lunch or a woman’s longing for a pregnancy, Wilkinson touches a spot in the soul that yearns for understanding. Wilkinson use of language and description exhibits a keen understanding of interpersonal relationships, human motivation, and the desire to be accepted. Blackberries, Blackberries will connect to people with varying backgrounds illustrating that people generally have more in common than they realize.
In The Awakening, Wilkinson explores a woman’s need to find a place within herself that’s her own, that isn’t defined by the roles she plays in life. As Autumn Marie focuses on her life decisions and her various roles, she needs to reconnect with her true self. Wilkinson shows Autumn’s life journey leading to the day we meet her in well-written prose. She writes Autumn’s discovery of self through the symbolism of color and pampering as small rebellions leading her to confront her loss of self, her grief, and her role in her own life. In a less skillful author’s hand, Autumn would invoke pity, but Wilkinson manages to keep her strong and relatable as well as sympathetic. Other stories in the book show the same kind of rounded characters displaying both strengths and weaknesses.
Though many stories have a sexual component, the sex feels like it’s simply part of life and never reads as gratuitous. Wilkinson’s inclusion of sexual situations as simply another aspect of life often reads as a symbol of self-awareness or oppression demanding release.
Blackberries, Blackberries brought tears to my eyes and laughter to my lips. It introduced me to characters I wanted to befriend as well as others I wanted to give a quick shake. The stories made me contemplate my own life and growth as a human being. Wilkinson uses language to invoke a sense of place and time so well I felt homesick for my childhood home in Kentucky. Blackberries, Blackberries brings people to a greater understanding of one another and the commonalities we all share in a well-written, easy to read book of short stories.