If I'd Known You Were Coming by the Kate Milliken and Lungs Full of Noise by the Tessa Mellas are endlessly connected in the literary loops that run through our brains. They are Iowa Short Fiction Award winning debut short story collections that are electric and pulsing with life. They slowly choke away the reader's breath as they ratchet-up our anticipation of what we think is to come, but hope will not. They are stories by women that speak to the complexities, triumphs and abuses that women face around sex, family, marriage and child birth, as only women can tell them. And we happened to read one night with both Milliken and Mellas and thought these books should somehow be read together, and that they were companion pieces, if nowhere else, in our imagination alone certainly.
And in all of this they are of a piece, but they are not the same thing, no books are, not really. So while Mellas assaults our senses with abject weirdness and the bizarre - so much of which is spot-on, though hits its artistic peak with Beanstalk, both at once a beautiful tale of a baby born at one with plant life, and a rumination on how the very act of birth leaves any mother at risk of being subsumed by the very life they have created; Milliken's work is in the realm of the realistic - pain and loss, violation, and lacking parents - squirrelling its way into our brain, then shaking us and insisting we pay attention. Which again, much of it is right there, but is especially crushing in the stories A Matter of Time and The Whole World, tales of limitation and weakness, and the endlessly uneasy place that women, girls really, find themselves in a world dominated by men and their deficits. All of which is to say, that these books will change your life, even as they squeeze it out of you, before lingering long after you're done.