Review of I Meant It Once by Kate Doyle @AlgonquinBooks

How commitment-phobes escape from all manners of relationships, even familial ones.

Blurb: With this sharp and witty debut collection, author Kate Doyle captures precisely that time of life when so many young women are caught in between, pre-occupied by nostalgia for past relationships—with friends, roommates, siblings—while trying to move forward into an uncertain future. In “That Is Shocking,” a college student relates a darkly funny story of romantic humiliation, one that skirts the parallel story of a friend she betrayed. In others, young women long for friends who have moved away, or moved on. In “Cinnamon Baseball Coyote” and other linked stories about siblings Helen, Evan, and Grace, their years of inside jokes and brutal tensions simmer over as the three spend a holiday season in an amusing whirl of rivalry and mutual attachment, and a generational gulf widens between them and their parents. Throughout, in stories both lyrical and haunting, young women search for ways to break free from the expectations of others and find a way to be in the world. 

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I Meant It Once by Kate Doyle is a collection of short stories, mostly about young women in their mid-20s to early 30s who seem to be either fixated on their past or lost.

After two well-written but average stories, I was hit by “Moments Later,” a story about a group of four friends, one of whom, Kelly, has just returned from an amazing trip abroad that she has shared on Instagram much to the derision of friend Owen who wondered how she could enjoy all of those fascinating places if she was constantly taking selfies. Just as Kelly, Owen, and Daniel are about to join their fourth friend, Erin, Kelly falls down a flight of stairs. The emotions are messy, as they should be, but what I was most struck by was this strong feeling of loss for all of those moments in relationships that slip by, where you pretend, put on your armor, be someone else other than who you are, your loss for not being real, not being there. Not being. And then suddenly you can’t be any of that any more because the opportunity is gone. The person is gone. A very impacting story that was definitely the best experience in I Meant It Once for me.

The other stories seemed to me to be about characters adrift, ones who did not want or know how to commit and perhaps were even sabotaging situations so that they never had to commit. The lack of desire or will to bond wasn’t simply for romantic relationships but seemed to be in familial ones as well, where characters simply wanted to be alone, in their own world. Whether the driving force for some of the behavior was sadness, feelings of being lost, or depression was never explained nor hints given so sometimes the emotions and behavior felt self-indulgent. A character could be sad on her parent’s couch even though she was in her mid-20s because she had no responsibility, no goals, nor any idea of what she really wanted from life. Did something happen to cause this listlessness, depression, sadness? Or is this the result of having no direction?

Kate Doyle’s writing is frequently beautiful with lovely rhythm that sometimes felt dreamy and yearning, poetic.

Many thanks to Algonquin for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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