Cold Feet – Stories by Elise Juska, Tara McCarthy, Pamela Ribon, Heather Swain & Lisa Tucker
(Downtown Press, $13, PG) ISBN 1-14165-0754-X
****
The folks at Downtown Press probably had no idea that they would be releasing an anthology about nervous brides at the same time that a real life runaway bride named Jennifer Wilbanks became the talk of the nation.  We’ll never really know what went on inside poor Jennifer’s head, but I’ll bet she shared some of the thoughts and fears of the heroines from this engaging and surprisingly thoughtful collection of short stories.   

  Cold Feet starts off with “Perfect Weather for Driving” by Elise Juska.  As live-in lovers Megan and Joel attend a friend’s out-of-town wedding, Megan reflects on the recent short-lived affair she had with Max, a man from her adult education cooking class.  Max’s personality reflected the spices the class explored each week, while Joel is more steady and down to earth.  When Megan and Joel are stranded in Vermont after a fender bender temporarily puts their car out of commission, Megan has the opportunity to reflect on their relationship and her level of commitment to Joel.  Juska, author of Getting Over Jack< Wagner and The Hazards of Sleeping Alone, has written a realistic but ultimately hopeful look at long-term relationships, and her story starts the anthology off on a high note.  

Tara McCarthy’s entry, “Losing California,” is more of a conventional romance.  Surfing instructor Alison leaves behind California and her nice guy fiancé to take an impulsive trip to Nova Scotia, just on the off chance that the rock band guitarist she fantasizes about is really her soul mate.  When she meets geeky but cute Michael Madsen in person she is afraid of coming across like a crazed groupie, but in fact Michael seems to be interested in her.  Once again the heroine has a choice between safe and risky, but in “Losing California” the poor dull fiancé never stands a chance.  The story is fun for those of us who had similar daydreams that the lead singer of our favorite band was writing songs just for us, but it’s the least substantial entry in the collection.  

Pamela Ribon writes about another nervous bride in “Sara King Goes Bad.”  Our titular heroine has always been a quiet, organized, well-behaved girl; her fiancé, a former party-hard frat boy, sees her as the embodiment of his desire to sober up and live a calmer lifestyle.  But Sara realizes she’ll explode if she doesn’t have one chance to go wild.  So one night she leaves Mitchell a goodbye note and embarks on an adventure of drunkenness, petty vandalism and casual sex, only to learn that being bad doesn’t feel as great as she thought it would.  Ribon, best known for her contributions to the “Television Without Pity” website and her own lively blog, captures those small moments where you’re sure that the little details about the man you love are the ones that will keep you apart forever, and Sara’s descent into rebellion is darkly comic, but  the story’s ending strains the reader’s credulity.   

Annie, the heroine of “The Happiest Day of Your Life” doesn’t have cold feet about getting married.  She’s thrilled to be planning a simple, intimate wedding with her fiancé Ben, and only asks him to take on responsibility for a few small wedding tasks.  But as things start to fall apart, starting with the wrong date printed on the wedding invitations, Annie becomes more and more uptight about the happiest day of her life, causing her to wonder if fate is telling her something about her future with Ben.  It will take a near tragedy to make Annie realize that the wedding isn’t the point, it’s the marriage that matters.  Swain’s story is entertaining, although I wanted the panic-stricken heroine to come to her senses without the heavy-handed plot device. 

 The anthology saves the best story for last.  Lisa Tucker, author of the critically acclaimed Song Reader and equally strong Shout Down the Moon pens a brief but memorable story about “Emily & Jules,” two agoraphobics who have fallen in love with each other through an online support group.  When Emily is invited to her brother’s wedding halfway across the country, Jules takes courageous steps to help her, only to learn that Emily hasn’t revealed the full truth about her condition.  More than any other author I’ve encountered recently, Lisa Tucker understands the miracle of two lonely people connecting, and she reaches that sad girl inside so many of us who never thought we’d be understood, much less loved.  She packs more genuine emotion into 50 pages than many authors do in a full-length novel.  

Cold Feet is worth the price for the Lisa Tucker story alone, but the four other entries are enjoyable as well.  Taking the step to get married is one of the biggest decisions a person can take, requiring risk, trust, and the decision to commit to one imperfect mate.  No wonder Jennifer Wilbanks freaked out.  While she’s trying to recover from the public mess her life has become, perhaps someone should hand her a copy of this book.  At least she would know she’s not alone in her confusion.

 

--Susan Scribner


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