-Book Reviewed by Rachel Wooley–
Kimberley Lynne’s, Something with a Crust: Stories from Hamilton, is a collection that represents its Baltimore neighborhood beyond the setting: these stories are in turn quirky, campy, dark, funny, disparaging, and uplifting. They showcase the working class and the privileged, the thriving and the abandoned. They demonstrate the small-world, tight-knit feel of Baltimore’s best communities and the isolation of its neighborhoods from one another. Even the cover illustration, a close-up image of form stone, finds its inspiration here: the stucco finish was patented in Baltimore in 1937 and can be found covering many a rowhouse in multiple neighborhoods.
These stories, while billed as fiction, sometimes blur the line between that and memoir. Lynne draws from life experiences in her Baltimore neighborhood and beyond, seamlessly weaving them into imaginative scenes. The stories themselves are clearly linked, too: characters reappear, paths cross, situations move from background to forefront (like the ever-intriguing Asian lady in the round hat). You’ll start to recognize them from one piece to another – or maybe even from real life, if you’ve spent any time in the city.
Each story begins with an image – black and white, overexposed, taken from some part of Hamilton. Trees, street signs, and store fronts give a clue about where each story is oriented. The stories are narrative, and for the most part within the realm of realism, though sometimes the light mist of something magical slips in. “I believe that there’s some sort of energy in the universe, some sort of magic,” says the narrator in “The Whim of the Great Magnet,” the collection’s final story; “I can’t name it, but I feel certain it can name me.” Lynne might not be able to name this magical element, but she is certainly in tune with it here.
Lynne’s variety of description throughout the book is enchanting. She has a lyrical way of making comparisons even when describing people or scenes that don’t seem to merit such treatment. For example, in “The Guru of Hartford Road,” the title character has cheeks that “sag in pouches, pocked like pears teetering on the edge of decay.” In a few of the shorter pieces, like “A Little Wilderness,” these lyrical descriptions take the forefront, giving the stories a wonderful sparkle: “I like a little wilderness in my yard…I keep the wild barely at bay, a reminder of the tangle inside each of us.”
The strongest stories, however, are the ones in which Lynne has moved completely into the heads of her characters: third-person narrated pieces like “A New Minefield,” in which a 30-year-old classically-trained cellist is trying to reclaim his passion, and “Tree People,” in which a tree trimmer falls for the woman his uncle is dating. These stories unfold beautifully, and in a sense intricately, so that even the more absurd situations, like Felix’s in “Baked,” where someone breaks into his house to bake a pot pie, seem logical on some level. Lynne gives all of her characters incredible authenticity, which allows the outcomes of their stories to feel “right.” And one need only spend some time in Baltimore, particularly in the neighborhood of Hamilton, to realize that any of the situations could also be true.
“Something with a Crust” is Kimberley Lynne’s third published book and her first collection of original short stories. It is her thesis project from UB’s MFA in creative writing and publishing and offers a wonderfully rich perspective on her home city. You can find it at The Gift Cellar and The Red Canoe (both in Lauraville, MD) or through its website, somethingwithacrust.wordpress.com.