Woman Walks Into a Bar, by Rowan Coleman (2013)

Woman Walks Into a Bar(nb: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss)

“Woman Walks Into a Bar” tells the story of a woman who has not had an easy life, but she’s found a sort of comfortable agreement with it.

Samantha is 28 years-old, and she lives in a small flat with her precocious twelve-year-old daughter, Beth. If you do the math, that means Beth was born when Sam was 16. The story behind that is a sad one, and it was the first of Samantha’s bad relationships with men.

Sam was bullied and virtually friendless at school, so dropping out at sixteen was no problem for her. She’s content working at the supermarket; her daughter is smart and popular, and Samantha has a circle of friends who love and support her.

These friends are also committed to helping Samantha find a man.

“Woman Walks into a Bar” is a beautifully told novella. We see qualities in Samantha that she can’t see for herself: wit, a good mind, and tempered judgment. She’s a great mother, and a good friend. Honestly, she’d be a great catch for any man, and yet she keeps trying dates from an Internet dating service, and they always end badly. There’s one guy Sam likes. However, she can’t imagine that he reciprocates.

The narrative moves from the present to various flashbacks of Sam’s early bad experiences. We can see the cruelty she endured, and compare that to her present-day, well-centered life. It’s baffling, except to say that some people just suck, and Sam used to be a magnet for them.

Rowan Coleman’s prose reminded me a lot of Joyce Carol Oates’s works, especially certain stories in “The Assignation.” There’s an indescribable sensuality in Ms. Coleman’ writing. Her style is smart and lush, and this book is a pleasure to read.

This is the part of the review where I usually say, “I liked this book, but…” Happily, I don’t really have anything to dislike. This is a novella. Ms. Coleman could doubtless have fleshed it out into a full novel, but it’s perfect the way it is: the length fits the story; there’s no reason to add more words or pages, just for the sake of adding more words and pages.

“Woman Walks Into a Bar” is a small gem of a novella, a beautiful character study with some of the sharpest writing I’ve read in a while.

Size isn’t everything. This book will move you and stick with you for a long time.

Most Highly Recommended


About tom

B.A. in Literature, Minor in Film Theory and Criticism, thus meaning all I’m trained is to write blog posts here. Neptune is my favorite planet–it vents methane into the solar system like my brother does. I think Chicken McNuggets look like Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. There are times when I’m medicated, which is why I wrote about McNuggets. Buy some today and tell me I’m wrong! Anyway, Beyond that: mammal, Floridian, biped.Good Night, and Good Luck. Besos, tom
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