Let me get this part out of the way so that we can all be happy: I recommend you buy Every Kiss a War. I recommend that you read it. I recommend that you then buy another copy because you cried all over/twisted up in happiness and sadness/underlined and dog eared your first copy into oblivion. 5/5 stars. Would read again. Would wife. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get gooey.
Leesa Cross-Smith is a writer from Kentucky. She runs the literary magazine WhiskeyPaper, which, if you get the chance, you should go to. And her time as an editor has manifested itself into her book, Every Kiss a War, not just in how polished the stories are, but in how each and every word matters. EKAW contains twenty seven (!) short fiction pieces, sometimes with storylines that span the distance of three stories (What Fireworks Are For, Hold on, Hold on, and Cheap Beer & Sparklers all follow the tumultuous relationship of Dominic and the perpetually running away Violet), but no matter if the characters are there for a page or thirty, each feels complete and whole and wholly complete.
The focus on relationships across the collection is what keeps the book from being repetitive. Nearly all of the stories are set in Kentucky, complete with cowboys and wine from mason jars, but the focus is much narrower, keeping the stories from being rambling portraits of southern life. Instead, each relationship, failing or blossoming, old or new, complicated or perfectly simple, keeps the stories flowing, keeps the pages turning. Two people coming together over the fact that they both stalked their exes? Check. Falling in love with your dead husband’s best friend? There it is. People who all have to ask each other “Who’s here when I’m not?” You already know.
That’s not to say that all of the stories are long, relationship driven complete tales of love and heartbreak. At least not in the let’s-get-married-and-have-this-baby kind of way. There are guides to how to behave like a woman (A Modest Guide to Truculence/Survival: Girls, which reads as an updated Girl by Jamaica Kincaid, but more honest about how confusing the world is), memories of wearing roller skates to a funeral (Sketches of a Story About Death), and the entire coming together and breaking apart that plauges all of our love lives, all within a page or two (Absolutely, Is That Rain, Back when Exile in Guyville was the Only Album I Listened To).
Of course, I could be tainted. I could be in just the right place at the right time. Every Kiss a War is perfect for heart break. And boy, let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share in the recent past. And, honestly, if it was just a book of characters saying “Relationships are difficult!” that might have been enough for me to jump on this book and ride it off into the sunset. But instead, they were real characters, all who wanted just to be sure that things might end up ok, especially when they are going terribly. It’s a book with moments like this:
“I don’t know. Isn’t that awful? I was in love with her and she broke up with me. That’s all.”
“I think in a way, everyone breaks everyone’s heart,” she says.
Those brief moments of understanding and honest realizations about what love is are what makes Every Kiss a War worth reading and reading, whether you are married or freshly single, whether you are happy or sad. It’s the book of the broken hearted and it’s perfect for the dumbstruck lovers.
Pairs well with:
Every Kiss a War
Mojave River Press