Craig Cushing reviews Snags and Spills: Stories by Cathy Eaton

July 9, 2012

Cathy Eaton’s short story collection contains tales of lives bursting at the seams, from the whimsical “Cavern Tavern” which recasts the “Snow White” fairy tale in a whole new light (fun!), to the autobiographical “Dress Rehearsal for Dying” in which the author attends to the needs of her dying mother while worrying about how her elderly father will cope with his wife’s death.  It is a profoundly moving portrait not just of the elderly parents, but of the author’s integrity as a dutiful caregiver, despite the personal pain of watching her parent dying.  This story segues into “You Can’t Help Yourself,” about a ninety-something-year-old semi-paralyzed man who finds life to be a painfully slow dance of attempting the most mundane tasks of daily living, tasks that now take intolerably long periods of time to execute.

Lest it appear that the collection of stories in SNAGS and SPILLS is devoted to aging, nothing could be further from the truth.  For example, “Crunch Time” portrays the “no sweat” sabbatical of an English teacher/mom who plans to finish her historical novel without the distractions of the classroom, but finds life getting in the way in manners that are hilariously believable.  One of my favorite stories in the collection is “Tagalong Musketeer,” which I have taught in my Modern American Short Fiction classes to enthusiastic reception by my college students—Sal’s story about divorce, parenting, sibling love, the grudging acceptance of growing older, and some painfully funny winter scenes of down-slope face plants at a Vermont ski resort.  This story has moments of ironic fun, with contrapuntal moments of life’s complexities that are both sobering and vividly real. Perhaps the best story in the collection is "Raggedy Slipper," which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012, eloquent testimony to Eaton's talent.

Taken whole, SNAGS and SPILLS is diverse and eloquent: life seen by an author whose observational and recording skills are quite remarkable.  I can unreservedly recommend this exceptional collection.