I always enjoy reading stories by writers I’m unfamiliar with, especially when they exceed my expectations. Mackenzie Littledale’s Testing the Ties That Bind: A Mini Collection of Short Stories is one of those rare collections that does just that.
There are only five stories here, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in content. What I like is that Littledale is a strong writer. She takes the reader by the hand and leads them into the lives of these characters. I felt less like an outside observer and more like I was sitting in the room with them, almost as if I could reach out and touch them or participate in the conversations.
The stories are snippets of real life, real people and real situations. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, but that’s not a bad thing. What I mean is, the characters were relatable, believable, like your next door neighbors or the family you run into every week at the grocery store. They aren’t heroes or victims. They’re simply real people.
I think that creating authentic characters can be difficult. It’s too easy to slip into stereotypes. Littledale’s cast is diverse, with a range of personalities, fears, phobias, and challenges. Even though the stories were short, I felt connected to the people in them, felt their happiness and their pain.
The stories themselves were also well written. Two of them got to me, made me tear up – both in sadness and in joy – and put the book aside for a while so I could process what I had just read. The others were just as good, although not quite the emotional gut-punch.
I highly recommend Testing the Ties That Bind. It’s a great companion for a rainy afternoon in bed or a sunny morning on the patio. I think Littledale has a great future as a writer. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.