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Author Margaret Hermes Pens "Relative Strangers"

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March 14, 2012
"Relative Strangers" is a charming new short story collection by local author Margaret Hermes. Her stories are engaging and poignant, presenting characters experiencing a wide variety of heartbreak.

Each story has an element of the unexpected. Because the action of the stories rests most heavily on the internal workings of the characters, the surprise often comes from a change in perspective.

The title of the collection is apt. Hermes explores the many ways in which people remain unknown to one another. Although her characters live within families, they carry parts of themselves that are hidden from others, in some cases hidden from themselves.

In "Transubstantiation," a husband waits by the bedside of his comatose wife, hoping for her recovery. When she does recover, she begins exercising regularly and stops cooking. She exchanges her collection of hand-sewn clothing for a new store-bought wardrobe in a completely different style.

Her husband feels alienated by the changes that others find exciting and positive. "He had always been unsettled by people who remade themselves."

For him the wife he knew never returns from the sickbed.

In the brief story "Meet Me," a husband and wife separately discover a matchbook in their house with a handwritten message under the cover. Each suspects the other of infidelity, revealing a mood of sadness and isolation in their marriage.

In the title story, a young woman drives from Chicago to her family lake house to sort out a problem between her Oma and Tante Emilie. She has recently lost her grandfather. Shortly after the funeral her grandmother Oma announces to the children and 19 grandchildren that the lake house will be left to only one grandchild to ensure that it stays in the family.

Shortly after that Oma banishes her sister Tante Emilie who has lived in the house with Oma and Opa since she was a young girl. When confronted, Oma reveals a family secret that casts the collective family history in a completely new light. "The most hateful part was having to revise her memories. Nothing had been as it appeared: all false fronts."

"Relative Strangers" is published by Carolina Wren Press, a non-profit organization with the motto "new authors, new audiences." It sponsors annual awards for poetry and for writing by a woman. Margaret Hermes is the 2011 winner of the Doris Bakwin Award.

Margaret Hermes grew up in Chicago and now lives in St. Louis. Her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals. She has published a novel and adapted an Oscar Wilde fable for the stage. Readers unfamiliar with Hermes will be pleased to discover this talented writer.

Margaret Hermes will speak and read from "Relative Strangers" at a book signing Thursday, March 29, 7 p.m., at the University City Public Library, 6701 Delmar Blvd. Books will be available for purchase at the event from Subterranean Books. Call 727-3150 for more information.

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