Though the best stories in Michelle Berry’s collection I Still Don’t Even Know You begin with predictable set-ups, they go well past the point of familiarity and push the boundaries of a reader’s comfort. Readers become privy to moments of improbable connection and agonizing intimacy. These captivating stories hinge on scenes that are painful to read, yet impossible to look away from.
In the title story, in which a husband and wife spend their 10th anniversary arguing with one another, Berry employs shifting perspectives to show their simultaneous connection and division. When the wife commits a small but shocking act of violence, the husband retaliates with a single syllable, and suddenly everything they thought they knew about themselves and one another is challenged.
“Christmas Has Gone to the Dogs” depicts the isolation of characters in a hospital emergency room on Christmas Eve. Pitch-perfect dialogue captures the essence of each speaker and propels the story toward its heart-wrenching conclusion.
The stories “Martin” and “Convenience” channel Flannery O’Connor, with something unsavoury lurking beneath a homey surface. “The Good Little Girl” pivots on a moment of terror in which a young girl discovers the sinister edges of the wider world. A similar epiphany comes in “Henderson Has Scored for Canada,” which takes place during the historic 1972 Canada/USSR hockey series.
Employing sweeping omniscience and a decreased focus on realism, “Mary-Lou’s Getting Married” and “Every Summer, In Every Watery Town …” are more tales than stories. Berry extends their narratives beyond obvious conclusions and illuminates characters from unexpected angles.
The less realized stories in the book contain characters that lack the fullness Berry is so good at creating. However, the collection as a whole is rich and satisfying.