Valerie Trueblood’s new collection...will be a joy to those encountering her work for the first time, as well as to her long-time admirers. To call the book a 'joy,' however, is in no way to suggest escapist fiction. Far from it. New stories in the Terrarium section, like those from earlier collections and from her novel, Seven Loves, run the gamut in tone from quixotic to grim, but all are realistic and compelling. This writer’s characters are real people—dreaming, trying, stumbling, falling, and going on as long as they can ... As a terrarium is a small, enclosed world, a miniature portion of earth, just so do many of the Terrarium stories show the author experimenting with more condensed pieces than appeared in her earlier short story collections ... A story (like a poem) should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. It is Trueblood’s gift to have such an unerring feel for what is necessary and to pare away the rest ... While not every question is answered and many puzzles are left unresolved, at any particular story’s last line I never had the feeling of having been pushed out of a speeding car and left on the side of the highway. I felt satisfied. Not necessarily in every case optimistic or relieved but always, in a literary sense, satisfied ... her stories are gifts to all readers.
Even the longest stories go light on plot and read more like meditations that flow downstream, carrying with them the remembrance of things past, the mysterious alchemy of relationships and the elusive nature of love ... Subject wise, the writer likes to poke at the spousal bond to see if it’s holding. Often, it does not ... Trueblood addresses motherhood less often, but when she does, the heartache of loss seems a frequent match ... Terrarium is a compendium of thoughtful and often insightful pieces that deal with the most incomprehensible parts of our being.
Terrarium offers a landmark collection of stories from a distinguished author. Selections from several of Trueblood’s (Criminals: Love Stories, 2016) previous books showcase characters who grapple with relationships, yearnings, and the pull of defiance ... These 19 tales also cast light on the entanglements of conscience ... Closing out the collection is a substantial set of new stories and vignettes, which feature notably succinct ruminations that manage to capture the nuance of her earlier works ... Trueblood’s stories question, explore, and expose as they offer unexpected connections and deeply human realizations.
Selections from three previous collections, as well as 30 new stories...comprise this excellent volume from Trueblood. The arrangement itself shows Trueblood’s shift to much shorter stories, particularly in the new selections ... Across these 49 stories, Trueblood provides breadth, depth, and something even more—a window into her evolution as a writer. The earlier stories bear resemblance to Alice Munro’s, while the later are reminiscent of Lydia Davis’s; but throughout, Trueblood projects her own unique voice.
The problem is that since 'Terrarium'—this is the name of the section of new stories within the book—contains a fair amount of flash fiction and stories that require a lot of attention and mulling from the reader, the publisher is not doing it any favors by sticking it at the tail end of a collection of the strongest (and, among them, the longest) stories Trueblood has ever written. There are indeed some great stories here, praised for their unsettling combination of empathy and ruthlessness, for their elegant, uncommonly quick development, for their diverse, unexpected subject matter ... Maybe if the collection had been allowed to become a book on its own the short pieces would seem less like fragments ... what seems intended to be a 'rediscovery' feels a little rushed.